17 May /16


Tamagotchi - Word of the day - EVS Translations
Tamagotchi – Word of the day – EVS Translations

When some people think of Japan, they may imagine Geisha and green tea. Even Ninja and Samurai, despite the fact they are long gone. But the best thing about Japan is not the old ways, and not even the new – it’s the combination of these two. Japan is fascinating because it’s as futuristic as it is traditional, and that is intriguing.

And every so often, you come across a quirky example of this. What could be quirkier than Japan’s love affair with the virtual world?

The Tamagotchi was a children’s toy in Japan that was, at one point, banned by schools. This toy was a handheld digital pet toy released in the 1990s; a small plastic egg with a screen that was home to your pet (hence the literal translation for the name as ‘egg watch’). In true Japanese style, this digital pet demanded absolute commitment to its care regime – even playing with toys is a serious business. If their needs weren’t consistently met (pressing buttons to feed them, give them medicine and so on), they died; it was that simple. Now, nobody wants to see a child with a dead pet on their hands – it doesn’t make the child very happy and thousands of school children sat in their classrooms feeding their pets, caring for them, taking them out for virtual walks. School teachers and parents, however, were eventually in uproar – no one is paying attention, and why are these children developing emotional attachments to something which exists only in a virtual world?! Bandai – the creator of Tamagotchi – finally backed down and created…a pause mode. Life in school could resume to normality and children could start to learn about human relationships, too.

The craze then caught on overseas. The word Tamagotchi first appeared in English print in 1997, when they turned up in Canada and in the Toronto Star: “The tamagocchi starts life as an endearing, bird-like image on the screen of an egg-shaped key-ring device”. In that same year, the Tamagotchi turned up again, this time in the U.K.’s Mirror newspaper with the story that “Cyberpet owner Kelly Boyd has kept her Tamagotchi alive a record 69 days”.

In love with Tamagotchi

Other functions began to be created and the Tamagotchi grew ever more addictive – you could team up virtually with another “player” and your pets could fall in love. They could create babies together (thankfully, graphics for this scenario were never developed). Oh yes, the Japanese were in love with their Tamagotchis.

And the Japanese love the virtual world…

In Akihabara, Tokyo, you can immerse yourself in the world of Anime (animation films), Manga (comics) and all things virtual. It’s a district mainly for extremely geeky men and boys to hang out and forget about the real world, at least for a while. This is where men were able to buy the Nintendo game Love Plus – you could have a virtual girlfriend and she’d be there for you whenever you need her…not like your wife…who nags you…and has certain expectations of you. In 2013, a BBC documentary covered the story of two middle aged Japanese men who claimed that they were in love and in a serious relationship with their virtual girlfriends from Love Plus. Of course, it’s a kind of titillating story – you can laugh out loud of the absurdity of what they say. Nevertheless, as the documentary correctly points out, the scenario these men invented is actually symptomatic of greater issues going on in Japan: long working hours for men, a bleak economic outlook for the younger generation and, perhaps the sign of a culture that does not see much importance on sharing your inner thoughts feelings with others.

Perhaps these men also owned Tamagotchis when they were younger.

In the case of the Tamagotchi, however, it is actually possible to just restart the game once the pet dies (though no one can dispute Japanese dedication). But for these men with their virtual girlfriends, a simple ‘restart’ might not fix their complex predicament.