Japanese nerd heroine, Shoko Nakagawa, loves Pokémon. And for good reason. Pocket Monsters gave her a reason to live.
A regular host every Sunday on Japan’s Pokémon Smash! (Formerly Pokémon Sunday), Nakagawa has described her selection as Pokémon Captain (ポケモン部長) for the show as a dream come true. She has also noted that while her current life is full of joy and entertainment, her childhood wasn’t exactly smooth sailing — something she covers in depth in her new book, Shoko Nakagawa: Pokémon Gave Me a Reason to Live (中川祥子 ポケモンが生きる意味を教えてくれた)
In the book, Nakagawa describes her upbringing and first encounter with Pokémon when she was in 5th grade. Having lost her father to leukemia when she was nine, Nakagawa was raised by her grandmother while her mother worked to support the family.
Spending much of her time as a latchkey kid, home alone with little to do but play games, draw pictures, and play with cats, Nakagawa learned of Pokémon through a weekly video game TV show, Super Mario Stadium. Captivated by the visuals and potential of this new duo of games, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green, Nakagawa struggled to save up her allowance until she was finally able buy a copy.
When she had finally saved up enough, Nakagawa went to her local toy store and bought a copy Pokémon Green. As she writes, “The reason I chose Green, and even the reason I became obsessed with Pokémon, was probably because I fell in love with the picture of the Venusaur at first sight.” (Although her love of turtles made her choose a Squirtle as her first companion.)
The only girl in her elementary school class who played Pokémon, Nakagawa was too shy to approach any of her boy classmates to trade Pokémon. As a result, she was never able to evolve any of her trade-specific Pokémon. Still, she was able to thrive and enjoy her hobby.
But this all changed when she entered an all-girls junior high school. “Because I wasn’t able to fit in with any of the standard groups, people would say ‘she’s creepy’ simply because I was doing what I was good at and liked.” Nakagawa writes. “Having what had been a support in my life labelled as ‘creepy’… What is this? I thought, ‘this has to be wrong’… And going to school stopped being fun.”
Perhaps what gave her the strength to go on and solidified Pokémon as an integral part of Nakagawa’s life was the release of the first Pokémon movie, Pokémon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back.
At a time when she was alienated at school and felt her own life was meaningless, Nakagawa’s grandfather sought to cheer her up by taking her to see a movie of the Pokémon she loved so much. The effect the movie had on her was more than was expected. “The dilemma of Mewtwo — born as a copy Pokémon and bearing the burning question of the meaning of his own existence — was something I could feel a great deal of empathy with.” Nakagawa recalls. The movie provoked such a strong emotional response, that it was the first time that Nakagawa found herself moved to tears. As Nakagawa writes:
I thought there was no meaning to life, but that wasn’t true. Meaningful encounters will always come. Miracles do happen. I felt it strongly as I watched Mewtwo fly away. I realised that I, too, have my family and my cats. The song, ‘To Be a Pokémon Master’ (めざせポケモンマスター) teaches in a subtle way that everyone lives to achieve their dreams and be happy. Like Mewtwo learned it from meeting Ash (サトシ) and Pikachu, I learned it from watching the movie.
From there, Nakagawa has gone on to become a celebrity and live her dreams by actually being cast to voice characters in Pokémon movies. Thanks to the network capabilities of the later Pokémon games, she has been able to freely trade with other players without having to be nervous or scared. 17 years after the first game was released, Shoko Nakagawa is truly the Queen of Pokémon. While she may sometimes look alone, she’s always got her cats and her Pokémon.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.
To contact the author of this post, write to cogitoergonihilATgmail.com or find him on Twitter @tnakamura8.