Culture Clash Over Pokemon Symbol and Gesture

Monday, December 27th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

It just started out as a buzz with kids. Pokemon has turned into almost an obsession. An obsession that's causing its share of problems. Parents are advised they may need to take the little pocket monsters more seriously.

On Christmas Eve, on a Connecticut street, something unbelievable happened to a child with a Pokemon card. "The kid said, ‘I almost got shot.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean you almost got shot?’ He said, ‘Someone took my holographic Pokemon card,’” said Pokeman crime witness Jorda Genaisse.

Nationally, police are reporting dozens of Pokemon-related crimes. The most rare of these crimes concern trading cards which are worth hundreds of dollars.

Brian Burnham is struggling over how to spend his birthday money. He already has almost every Pokemon card that has been printed. "The one with the swastika is worth $2,000. I've got it. It's said to be worth that amount because they're not making it anymore," said Burnham.

What does the swastika symbolize in America? To most Americans, it stands for hate. But that's not what the symbol means in Japan. "A long time ago, we used this symbol to mean where a place located,” said Japanese interpreter Miyuki McDonald. “But this particular symbol on the card means 'the battle place.'"

McDonald says the symbol on the pokemon card in question is where the pokemon have obviously been at battle. But she does have concerns over some other cards. One of the cards has a character making what looks like a lewd hand gesture. McDonald says even though it looks like the Pokemon Drowzee is being rude, that's probably not the case. "I don't know,” said McDonald. “The company who makes the cards may not really know. The gesture does not mean a bad thing in Japan. So I hope they didn't mean it."

McDonald says Nintendo probably didn't realize how cultural differences might impact children in America or the uproar the cards might cause. Even in this global economy, there are still culture clashes still coming to light through a children's game.

Local Pokemon dealers, like Top Deck Games, believe that buying valuable cards from kids promotes theft. That's why they offer in-store credit, rather than cash instead. And as with any entertainment medium, experts say parents should be aware of their kids' activities.