Embracing your inner child well into adulthood is something that is considered completely of the norm here in Japan. Grown businessmen will walk down the street carrying mobile phones clad in fluffy keychains or a bag covered in a multitude of badges depicting their favourite anime characters. Comic book shops are full to the brim with mature audiences lined with bowed heads engrossed in this months latest issue, and games arcades are open until the early hours of the morning allowing street fighters and taiko drummers that extra inch of practice time.
This innocence so quickly lost in the west is carried beyond adolescence in the east, and everything from air conditioning units to loaves of bread has a mascot character attached to it. You can find a cute face on every type of food in the supermarket or bakery and yet somehow it works. It works because there appears to be less judgement from onlookers; allowing the masses to embrace their guilty pleasures at will.
When I was a child, I was instantaneously sucked into Pokemania. I was an avid card collector and the games appealed to me as if they were a real life counterpart. I soon outgrew this fad and the next wave of collectable items swarmed the UK. I would purchase the latest Pokemon game on the handheld console every other year or so, but moving to Japan in the year of its 20th anniversary ignited a vast sensation of nostalgia within me. It allowed me to unlock that juvenile sense of perspective I lost so many years ago.
I visited the Pokemon Center in Ikebukuro soon after arriving and was blown away to discover the company had rereleased the original card set from my childhood to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The inner collector and obsessive compulsive child inside of me just had to complete this set as an evocative obligation. “Challenge accepted” I thought, and suddenly I found myself getting excited opening packs of cards designed for Japanese children. On the third pack opening, I pulled the infamous Charizard card. THE card that was dubbed the most expensive card ever and that once sparked many fights on the school playground. I specifically remember my Dad getting into a fight with another kids dad over this card on my behalf. As I held this revamped celebrity in my hand, a Japanese man walked by, sighed at me and said in the calmest voice “Ahh….. natsukashii!!…”
The Japanese have this ability to sum up an entire situation including all the emotions involved in one simple yet effective expression. Natsukashii. I wish we had an English counterpart. ‘Nostalgic’ somehow doesn’t quite do it justice in my opinion.
Back in the shop I noticed a poster advertising two promo cards from my childhood for those who traded in any old cards. If you handed over twenty old cards you would be gifted with either a promo Pikachu or a promo Charizard card (two mascots from the franchise). I had just purchased a few packs so I thought why not buy a few more, trade in forty cards that I don’t want then I can add both of these special cards to my new collection.
I happily strolled up to the counter to claim my prize when the woman manning the station looked at me with a melancholic expression and regretfully announced that the cards I am offering her are not acceptable. The only cards eligible are those from the 90’s and 00’s. Part of me began to channel the child version of me when I would lose a coin toss in a trade with my friends. As I glumly began to walk away, a man in the queue behind me stops me, opens up a box full of old cards, counts out forty and casually hands them to me. At first I refused to accept them and when he insisted wholeheartedly I eventually gave in and acquired his offering. I passed them to the lady and was rewarded with the two limited edition cards.
I bowed multiple times to the man and used all the polite and grateful Japanese I could muster before eventually walking away. What a completely altruistic and selfless act from one kind and unassuming gentleman to another on the natsukashii trip of a lifetime. From the looks of it he was an avid collector but there was something about the way he looked at me for a split second as he handed over those cards. It was that of a child giving another his last sweet in the playground. Although he may hurt, he knew it would be unequivocally appreciated and treasured.
I did in fact continue to collect this particular set until near completion due to many factors: it fuelled my inner compulsion, it fed my inner child’s search for natsukashii and quite frankly it was a hell of a lot of fun! Every now and then I’ll visit the center or look at this collection and it’ll make me smile to remember this day and the exchanges that took place amongst the hustle and bustle of this hectic biome.
However niche, however diverse, however homogenous Tokyo may seem, there are so many pockets of individuals just like this within each sector, all seeking the same thing; something to captivate them, appeal to their senses and ultimately make them happy.
I added this encounter to my Diary of Firsts. The first time I embraced my inner child unfeigned. The first time a selfless act of kindness was inflicted upon me in my new home. However otaku or juvenile this anecdote may appear, the true essence of its purpose is to outline these universally understood moments of benevolence.