For Japan's Nerd Heroine, Pokémon is a Bridge Between Strangers

Shoko Nakagawa, Japan's own nerd heroine and queen of Pokémon hasn't exactly had an easy upbringing. Her school life after elementary school was mostly filled with rejection and alienation from classmates due to her being different. But staying true to her love of Pokémon has paid off in spades as she recalls in her new book, Shoko Nakgawa: Pokémon Gave Me a Reason to Live (中川祥子 ポケモンが生きる意味を教えてくれた).

Even after winning a contest in her first year at high school, which let her debut as an idol, Nakagawa remained an outcast at school. Her new added fame only helped to distance her from her classmates and aside from her family, games, anime, and the internet became her sole source of comfort. It wasn't until after graduation that her hobby of drawing and her love of video games began to be accepted by those around her.

In 2006, Nakagawa became the Pokémon Captain for the weekly TV show, Pokémon Smash! (formerly Pokémon Sunday) and from there, she hasn't looked back.

Nakagawa has since gone on to star as a voice actor in multiple Pokémon movies and her eccentricities and sometime quirky behavior draws more affection than alienation. Despite being widely accepted by society at large, on a personal level Nakagawa still remains quite introverted, often finding difficulty in breaking the ice with strangers. One device that has let her break out of her shell and connect with others on several occasions has been Pokémon.

One notable episode occurred quite recently. This past February, 2 years after the 2011 earthquake that devastated Northeastern Japan, Nakagawa had an opportunity to visit an elementary school in Ishinomaki, a city in the Miyagi prefecture. "It's been 2 years since [the disaster] and the gap between areas that are rebuilding and area where debris are still lying around felt very raw." Nakagawa recalls.

At first, Nakagawa was very shy and nervous about talking with the school children who had lived through the disaster, but when one child approached her saying that they had seen her on Pokémon Smash!, she was able to overcome her anxiety and strike up a conversation.

Soon, the other children began to approach her and conversations about Pokémon and requests for her drawings and quotes from the movies she voice acted in brought them all together. "I was amazed at the positive power of Pokémon and its ability to break down all the barriers." Nakagawa writes.

Nakagawa now finds herself in a position where she is no longer a spectator of Pokémon, but a purveyor. Offering the escape to the world of battling pet monsters to others that she herself was offered as a child.

Pokémon X and Y are set for release in Japan on October 12th, and there's no doubt that Shoko Nakagawa will be playing, battling, and trading together with others – sharing in the common love that both gave her strength and allows her to give strength to others.

... When she isn't putting her cat's head in her mouth, that is.

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To contact the author of this post, write to cogitoergonihilATgmail.com or find him on Twitter @tnakamura8.