As you are no doubt aware, Japan is just crazy about crazes. A quick trawl through Wikipedia gives us Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and YuGiOh, to name but three recent(ish) examples. These crazes are basically games, the first, if you need reminding, was an electronic pet thing that you grew from an egg – fascinating. The other two were card games played by kids, a bit like Top Trumps but with stories and stuff you could build on, like comics, films, global branding and Coke™ tie ins, to expand the game and increase the fun, or something.
Anyway card games about little yellow aliens, as in pokemon, or about...er...whatever it is YuGiOh is about, are all very well, but they’re not exactly educational, now are they? Being a realist I can see that there isn’t likely to be a card game based on, say the periodic table of elements or quadratic equations, but those clever people at Sega have, at least, hit upon something that works, and it is the new phenomenon known as Mushi King!
Now I have heard about this before, mainly through a colleague who tells me what’s going on with his 4-year-old son and, for the last few months, Mushi King has been top of his list. But unfortunately he, or rather neither of them, were in a position to explain to me what it was all about. I mean, I got the ‘Mushi’ bit, that means bug or insect, so, Bug King, ok with that (though mushi also means humid, as in mushi atsui – hot and humid weather, but Humidity King doesn’t really have the same cache to it, if you ask me (though could be about Swedish Sauna battles, I suppose...)). But anyway, today I read about it in the paper and can report to all of you out there who don’t know what it is.
Japanese kids, it seems to me, have a fascination with bugs. I have a suspicion that most kids have a thing about bugs, mainly as bugs are interesting and have cool things like lots of legs, horns, shiny bits and mandibles of death. In Japan it is quite possible to buy bugs in department stores, especially beetles, as beetles seem to be the most popular kind of bugs to get – more popular than, say cockroaches, which everyone tries to kill. Some really weird otaku’s (lit. trans. Weird, compulsive collector people who you wouldn’t invite to dinner) pay an awful lot of money to get their hands on, for example, a rare south American horny tree beetle, or something, but of course kids cant afford these, so those clever people at Sega spotted a niche in the market.
So what we have now is, as far as I can tell, Beetle Top Trumps, or, to put it another, Japanese, way, Mushi King! There is even a website for those who can’t get enough of the card game. Nowadays, where once kids gathered in the toy sections of department stores to play pokemon or YuGiOh, now they gather to play Mushi King. This is an aspect of Japanese culture that I really like and wish could be imported around the world. Essentially the toy floors of local supermarkets and department stores will have an area where kids can go and play these games – you need floor space, you see, to spread out the cards – and as the average house in on the small side, the toy shops now oblige. Of course there is the angle that having kids come to the shop or floor will encourage them to buy more, but the point is that first, they’re allowed to play their games, second, they aren’t hassled by the staff even if they don’t buy stuff and third, the areas are safe, dry, warm and well lit, meaning parents can deposit kids and shop.
Anyway there must be more to the story than this, I’m sure you’re thinking, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. And of course there is. Like all good card game crazes in Japan there is a background story – why else would all these bugs be fighting? Well, it’s simple. Way back in the mists of time a whole bunch of foreign bugs were bought to Japan by person or persons unknown who, sadly, tired of their six legged friends and so let them loose in a mythical forest. This is a genuine environmental concern and is, of course, not limited to Japan – look at the lengths the Australian customs service go to to stop alien flora and fauna from entering Australia. But in Mushi King what happened was a disgruntled old-man-of-the-forest type guy named Adder who, angry at the deforestation of his home, recruits the foreign bugs, creates an army and sallies forth to wreak his revenge. With beetles. Anyway the ‘good’ guys are, of course, the Japanese beetles, who form an opposing army to fight the foreign invaders.
Anyone spot the racial overtones here? Good Japanese beetles fighting off the foreign invaders. Apparently Sega see nothing xenophobic in this. “Some of my best friends are foreign beetles,” a spokeswoman from Sega quite possibly said. What she did say was “we don’t depict the foreign bugs as bad”. Hmm, ok, but then followed it up with “They are not bad by nature [er, thought you said they weren’t depicted as bad at all?]. They were bought here and abandoned in the forest. They were manipulated by evil spirits [very easily led to the dark side, you average foreign beetle]”. For good measure she added, “Many foreign beetles are very popular”. Well that’s all right then, I guess.
But, like it or not, Mushi King is here to stay and, no doubt, will be marching across the land in search of a new marketing opportunity in the very near future, but will American and European versions have the Japanese beetles as the ‘bad’ guys? No, I don’t think so either.
Anyway, here are some photos for you, some of the youngster and some of the Arakawa that I took last weekend on the only sunny Sunday we have had for weeks! For more photos please go to Flickr who are marvellous and host my photos online and even did the snazzy photomontage thing at the bottom of the sidebar.
Yes, it's my ball
over we go...
Arakawa towards Tokyo
Arakawa towards Kawaguchi