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Posted in: Hiroshima unhappy atomic bomb park is Pokemon Go site See in context

I have been at Peace Park every day since Pokemon Go (PGo) released last Friday in Japan. On Friday there were around 20-25 people playing around Gembaku Dome. Everyone was sitting quietly staring at their screens, playing alone. The crowd grew to around 50 people, but it was quite. This was not the experience I anticipated. I had heard of pub crawls, parks full of kids and adults catching Pokemon together, being active and social. I had read about the bars and restaurants in America and Australia filling up with players dropping lures (ways to attract Pokemon to your location) and making the experience even more social. My Friday did not start this way. So rather than stick around, I ended up walking 12.5 kilometers on Friday night, catching Pokemon. I was on my screen for a lot of the time looking at the map, but I was also actively surveying my surroundings while looking for Pokestops. This is an aspect of the game that author of the article and other defectors of the game don’t mention, or don’t know about. You can take a moment to acclimate yourself to your surroundings and look for this place. Pokestops show you a picture of a landmark, monument, or place of note. You then interact with the Pokestop and the game gives a brief note about the location above the image. I spent hours finding places around downtown Hiroshima that I did not know existed. I wasn’t alone in this endeavor as I noticed throngs of people walking around doing the same thing as me. I even popped into a bar for a short respite to get a drink and eat some snacks to refuel. Friday ended up being fun, it was a good time for me to explore the game and I went to bed insanely satisfied and with a game plan for the next day to explore and walk some more.

Saturday at Peace Park was a totally different experience. Around 11AM I walked over and found that Genbaku Dome was surrounded with what seemed to be over 200 players. However, unlike the day before, players were talking quietly amongst themselves and politely staying out of the pathways allowing tourists to still experience Peace Park. A few people noticed my screen and asked me how I liked the game, what level I was, what team I was, what Pokemon I loved etc. We even got into some debates over which legendary bird was better. It was the experience I had been craving.The other players were a bit shocked to see someone like me playing the game apparently. I was a bit startled at their surprise but it struck me that I don’t look like much of a gamer. But the beauty of gaming, and of the growing culture is that we all look different, we all come from various backgrounds, but we collectively share these experiences and a love of something so simple. We are united by experiences that we have had for over 20 years. Gamers uniting. Man, what a rush! Over the course of Saturday I exchanged LINE information with a few Team Instinct players, grabbed snacks and beers with a handful of others, and walked another 15 kilometers. Not much of a zombie if I do say so myself.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday have passed and I have walked nearly 90 kilometers. I have made new friends, I have seen groups of people huddled together frantically trying to catch the Pokemon on their screen. I have seen droves of bicyclists chasing the next “big one” across the city. I have seen new friendships forged. I have seen surprise when old friends meet and realize that they share a love for Pokemon that they did not know existed before.I have lived here in Hiroshima and extensively traveled through Japan over the past 3 years, and I have never seen so much activity, so much life, on a normal weekend or weekday in Hiroshima. I have never seen so many people in Hiroshima interacting. Even the players crowding the bridge near Peace Park, the benches along the river, the nooks and crannies along the side streets people normally don’t venture to… everyone is making the most of this new technology and socializing and exploring. Where would these people be otherwise? In a smokey bar drinking the night away? At home in-front of their TV? Most people are having an amazing time. The crowds have grown from the 10s to the 100s. How can this be a bad thing? How is this not living?

I think people would focus on one aspect of the post; the author of the article, or blog, rightfully mentions that Peace Park and Genbaku Dome in particular is a sacred place. There is no denying this. The Peace Museum is a sombre experience that still brings tears to my eyes when I visit, but not a single player is taking away from this. No one is desecrating the space. No one is being so belligerent that tourists are losing the experience of Hiroshima. There are still free tour guides actively showing tourists around and answering questions. In fact, on Tuesday afternoon, a survivor of the atomic bomb came with a small congregation and they stopped in-front of the dome to chant and play drums. Literally every player surrounding the area fell still and quiet. They continued to play the game after some time, but everyone was cognizant of what was happening. They still appreciated the fact that this landmark symbolizes a volatile, dark period of history of the city for people. They were not about to interrupt this experience for the woman. So who is the author, or who is anyone else to interrupt this collective experience we gamers are having around Peace Park? Let’s not be quick to forget that Genbaku Dome once served as a Product Exhibition Hall and was at the center of Hiroshima vibrant shopping district where people would come everyday to socialize and interact. The streets were alive in Hiroshima before the horrific actions occurred, and the streets are once again brimming with life and activity. Let’s see where this crazy little thing goes.

P.S. I didn’t even mention any of the economic effects that the game has had on small businesses surrounding the Peace Park, Miyajima, and Ujina Port areas. Food for thought.

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