Luis Valente earns trip to Japan

Feelings of comfort and reassurance are hard to come by in large metropolitan areas. The outskirts of Los Angeles have been my home for the entirety of my life, but despite this, I’ve never felt comfortable in the hustle-and-bustle of downtown Los Angeles like I thought I would.

Instead, I found comfort in video games, particularly those of the Pokemon series. Each entry had their own personality, story, and set of characters that brought the game to life. The virtual world of Pokemon served as an escape from the reality in which I struggled to fit in. The portable nature of the games it possible to feel comfort no matter where I was, whether I was playing in the hospital or in a car ride to my aunt’s house.

Surprisingly enough, the virtual world of Pokemon connected me with real people, some of which became friends. Pokemon and video games allowed me to find a community, one where I could interact with people without fearing being judged. It’s become a household name, akin to Mickey Mouse or Harry Potter.

This year, Pokemon celebrates its 20th anniversary of the Japanese release of Pokemon Red and Blue versions, the first pair of games to be released on the Gameboy. With Nintendo, the Pokemon series’ publisher, being based in Japan, Pokemon has drawn a lot of inspiration of the various regions of the island nation. (For example, the geography and structures of the Kanto region is primarily based on Japan’s Kant region with a touch of the Chubu region.)

One Pokemon region that has always particularly stood out to me is the Johto region, based on Japan’s Kansai region. Johto has a bit of everything: ancient temples, lush forests, and large metropolitan areas.

Goldenrod City, Johto’s major metropolitan area, is based on Osaka, Japan. Goldenrod mirrors Osaka in many ways: it’s a center of economy for the region, it houses major media networks, has a high-speed train that travels to and from the Kanto (Kant) region and it is the region’s most-populous city. One can say I’ve already experienced Osaka, but I want to experience it in person, and not on a dual-screen handheld. I want experience the same level of comfort and belonging in Osaka as I did when I played the Pokemon games.

There’s more to the city than what the Pokemon games portray. I want to know why the city is known as Japan’s gourmet food capital and taste Osaka’s rich cuisine; I want to walk past the Cherry Blossom garden in Osaka Castle Park; and I want to walk into Osaka’s equivalent of a Pokemon Center, a store where the shelves are abundant with Pokemon merchandise.

I would make use of a trip to Osaka by documenting my week there and I would compare the personality of Osaka’s people to the people of Los Angeles. Both Osaka and Los Angeles are metropolitan areas. Some people hold the opinion that Angelenos are uptight and unfriendly, yet I’ve read that the people of Osaka are open and friendly. I’d like to investigate why that is. What is so different in Osaka that makes their people feel so happy? What can Los Angeles learn from them to change their people and people’s impression of the city?

In addition, I would show how similar Osaka is to Goldenrod City, Pokemon’s interpretation of Osaka. I’d also visit the nearby cities and compare them to their respective Pokemon version and determine whether or not Nintendo was able to correctly represent the nature of a city or area in the Pokemon game.

If there’s any time, I would love to visit Kyoto, located about an hour away from Osaka, and pay my respects to Satoru Iwata, the late president of Nintendo, at the Nintendo headquarters. He was a man who understood gamers; he put his time and heart into the games he worked on, games I played. It would be a nice change of pace to visit the many Buddhist temples and shrines in Kyoto and learn to appreciate the beauty of mother nature.

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