This weekend in Tokyo’s Akihabara, over five hundred people lined up for Pokémon cards. In past years there have been multiple examples of Pocket Monsters drawing long lines, especially in Japan. This would normally be a regular occurrence. In 2021, it’s anything but, with the nation’s Covid-19 restrictions making such sights deeply unusual.
These cards weren’t new, but rather a reprinting. Despite this, lines formed all over Japan, even though a large part of the country is still under a state of emergency for Covid-19, including Tokyo, where lines like this feel like a thing of the past.
“Because lots of shops are temporarily closed in Akihabara due to Covid-19, this was totally extreme,” said Kaztsu, a photographer and blogger who covers the geek district. By his count, approximately 550 people lined up at the Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara for the cards.
“The only thing that can make a line like this is pachinko and Pokémon cards.”
Starting late last month and continuing through the weekend, new printings of Eevee Heroes and Shiny Star V hit Japanese shops. As YouTuber okJLUV explains, these sets have already received a handful of new printings since release. For example, Eevee Heroes got a re-release in June before its latest version. Shiny Star V last appeared in early February, late March, and now, late August and early September. As the latest printings came into stock, shops all over the country drew lines and saw sell-outs, including in Kawasaki, Miyazaki, Hakata, and Sapporo.
When these earlier reprintings came in stock, there were long lines—and not only in Tokyo—but the lines seem to keep getting longer. Those lines might be filled with diehard fans, but they could also be packed with speculators hoping to make a quick yen, or people paid to wait in line. Boxes of Shiny Star V, for example, have been fetching as high as over three times their suggested retail price of 5,500 yen ($49.90), with desirable single cards commanding much more.
Some shops have been moving product without restrictions, while others have been limiting customers to one box per person in an effort to discourage resellers. Yodobashi Camera in Yokohama actually quizzed customers before selling them the cards.
(The pop question, however, was not difficult: “Who is the sidekick of the main character in Pokémon?”)
Even in Tokyo’s Akihabara, where people would religiously line up pre-pandemic, the most recent line at the area’s Yodobashi Camera stood out. In Japan during the age of Covid-19, it is unusual to see first-come-first-served lines like this—unless they’re for vaccinations. Console sales have moved to raffle systems to avoid large gatherings. It seems Pokémon cards have not.
Pandemic or not, as the Pokémon card market heats up even in Japan, you should expect the lines and sell-outs to continue.
For more of Kaztsu’s regular coverage of Akihabara, check out his official site. Also, you can follow him on Twitter for daily updates and photos about Japan’s most electric town.
All images and tweets used with permission.