Japanese kids are ace-ing it in international card tournaments

Kids bag prizes in intl card games Takashi Nii / Yomiuri Shimbun

Card games are very popular among Japanese children, and many of these youngsters are shining in international card game tournaments.

“Let’s battle!” cried the MC of the 2009 Pokemon World Championships, prompting 380 players from 25 countries to immediately begin cutting cards as the tournament got under way in San Diego in the United States from Aug. 13 to 15.

A total of 36 Japanese categorized by age into three groups attended the world championships.

Tsubasa Nakamura, 9, of Chofu, Tokyo, triumphed in the junior category for players born after 1998, while Takuto Itagaki, 12, of Kawasaki scooped the title in the senior category for players born between 1994 and 1997.

Itagaki said he takes part in some kind of tournament almost every weekend. “I participate in 50 tournaments each year,” he said.

For the game, players use a deck of 60 cards printed with Pokemon characters. Players are dealt a number of cards and take turns setting individual cards onto the “battlefield.” The strongest card is determined based on the Pokemon skills depicted on each card, and the winner of each hand takes both cards. The game is over when one player has no cards left.

“Like [the] menko [card game in which cards are slapped onto the ground], the [Pokemon card] game features fighting, collecting and trading cards, and as such, appeals to boys,” said Fumiaki Ibuki, chief editor of Toy Journal, a toy industry magazine.

“The game’s popularity is now entrenched,” he added.

Besides the Pokemon cards sold by The Pokemon Co., Konami Corp.’s Yu-Gi-Oh! and Tomy Co.’s Duel Masters also are popular, and are based on the same basic premise as the Pokemon game.

According to the Japan Toy Association, card game sales in fiscal 2008 increased about 40 percent to about 76.1 billion yen from the previous year.

About 4 million people across the nation play such card games, a Tomy official said.

Of the 36 Japanese who participated in the Pokemon World Championships, 15 made it through to the final round.

Though official invitees from each country’s did not have to reach into their own pockets for fees, independent participants had to foot the bill for their own travel and hotel expenses.

A 41-year-old company employee from Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, who entered the tournament with his 10-year-old son, said his family of four used air miles to buy plane tickets, but still managed to spend more than 300,000 yen during their stay.

Overseas, such card games–which are believed to have originated in the United States–are generally played by adults. However, in Japan, card games are generally associated with children, and most Japanese participants in the tournament were in their teens or 20s.

In the master category of the Pokemon World Championships for players born before 1993, many participants were in their 40s and 50s.

“If there were more Japanese players in my generation, I could have competed against them,” said Howan Louis, 46, of San Diego.

Daily Yomiuri (Sep. 2, 2009)

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