As a high school student, Satoshi Tajiri liked to skip classes and play video games at a neighborhood arcade. One day his father got a call from a teacher: young Satoshi didn't have enough credits to graduate. With college a lost cause, Tajiri's father contacted a friend at the Tokyo Power Co. to help find his son a job‹as a lineman. I thought he could at least make a living that way, says the elder Tajiri. Instead, the boy turned his after-school diversion into a career: he took enough make-up courses to graduate and went on to invent Pokémon, the video-game sensation that is sweeping the world. The fascinating thing about Pokémon, says Tokyo bureau chief Tim Larimer, who did the principal reporting for this week's story on the phenomenon, is that one of the world's biggest merchandising marvels has a creator nobody ever heard of. In Japan, video-game makers tend to be stars whose names are often used to promote their products. Not Satoshi Tajiri, who shuns the press. When we contacted Nintendo, the game's manufacturer, nobody there thought the young man could be coaxed into a meeting. But Larimer and bureau intern Takashi Yokota paid a visit to his Tokyo office, unannounced. The staff seemed genuinely surprised and invited them back the next day to meet Tajiri. I expected a nerdy guy, and he was, says Larimer. But he also turned out to be thoughtful, entertaining and complex. It was important for him that Pokémon not be violent. That's why the monsters don't 'die' when they lose a battle. They faint.
Larimer and reporters Sachiko Sakamaki and Hiroko Tashiro, who hung out with legions of young Pokémon fans, soon discovered another remarkable facet of the realm Tajiri created. The point of Pokémon is to collect monsters, raise them and turn them into your allies, says Larimer. It's about finding friends. That's difficult for many young people in today's Japan, where conformity is king and kids who are different stick out like self-conscious monsters. Tajiri knows: when he was young, playing video games was considered weird. You were thought of as a delinquent, he recalls. It was as bad as being a shoplifter. So read this week's story and learn how Tajiri created his own world, where anybody can find a friend.