Posted: April 11, 2022 | Updated: August 25, 2022

12th Anniversary “TOKYO” Pichu

“February 27, 1996. On this day in Japan, the GameBoy software “Pokemon Red and Green” was released. That day Pikachu, Venusaur, Charizard, Meowth, Mewtwo and many other Pokémon were born into the world.”

Pokémon Day. We’ve come to associate February 27 with extravagant celebrations, not least the franchise’s 25th anniversary that involved international superstars like Katy Perry and Post Malone – befitting of Pokémon’s stature as the biggest multimedia franchise in the world.

By contrast, the twelfth anniversary of Pokémon Red & Green‘s release on February 27, 2008, went by almost unnoticed. Certainly, GameFreak “celebrated” it too. But if you thought glamour like red carpets, limousines, and virtual concerts, you would be wrong. Rather, GameFreak marked the milestone in the most understated, you-had-to-know sort of fashion possible that it attracted precisely the type of thick-and-thin Pokémon fan who’ve been the backbone of the franchise for 25+ years. Concretely, the modest festivities were condensed into a single day, February 27, at a single location: PokeCenter Tokyo. The undisputed highlight? The availability of mysterious unhatched eggs for Diamond & Pearl that fans could acquire by directly trading Pikahat-wearing PC staff.

This is the (concise!) story of the all-but-forgotten 12th anniversary “party” at PC Tokyo and its obscure commemorative “TOKYO” Pichu distribution.

Interrupted Sleep

February 2008 was a busy month for PokeCenters across Japan, for the immensely popular Onemuri (おねむり) or “Sleepy” Pikachu campaign was in full swing. For its part, PC Tokyo adorned its four-pane wide, window-high storefront with a mural of the campaign’s representative image, ie. that of Pikachu hunched forward, head resting on one puffy cheek, snoozing contentedly. Nothing about PC Tokyo’s centrality in the campaign was inevitable. Having relocated to a new site in Hamamatsucho only the previous Summer, the branch was still relatively new.1From Nihonbashi. Benefiting from lots more floor space over the old location, PC Tokyo was jam-packed with Pokémon goods, hosted TCG tutorials and events, and had such cool features as an in-store “Union Room” where visitors were encouraged to pull out their Nintendo DS and battle against friends or trade Pokémon.2See for example GWI for coverage of the store’s grand opening: https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/20070601/poke.htm Onemuri Pikachu was the one of the first special, grand campaigns in which the store participated. It ran from February 2-29, 2008, and consequently PC Tokyo’s shelves bulged with all manner of Sleeping Pikachu-themed merchandise, from plushies in all shapes and sizes, carrying bags and boxes of cookies to coffee mugs and even tiny bedside (or kitchen) clocks.

onemuri pikachu

Onemuri Pikachu cookies (top) and storefront (bottom). Image credit: asami-1120

However! For one day that month, Sleeping Pikachu took a backseat as a different vibe came over the store. On Wednesday February 27, 2008, the franchise’s 12th anniversary was the focal point, and the store buzzed with the arrival of hordes of fans eager to help celebrate it. I think it safe to say that Pikachu did not get much shuteye that day.

Still. Although PC Tokyo burst at the seams on February 27 from the influx of joy-seeking fans, in the grand scheme of things, the 12th anniversary barely registered. There were no big feature pieces in the gaming press to discuss the milestone. Special lines of merchandise, so common for many other occasions, were nowhere to be found. And perhaps most tellingly, there was also no mention of the franchise’s 12th anniversary on Pokémon-themed variety show Pokémon Sunday nor in Japan’s premier ani-manga magazine CoroCoro Monthly, whose March 2008 issue was instead preoccupied with the “discovery” of Shaymin, fun facts about Giratina, the upcoming Movie 11 “Shaymin and the Sky Bouquet”, developments in the world of Battrio (see also here), imminent arrival of the latest TCG set featuring many Mythicals, and the promotion of Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia. That the date stirred in GameFreak’s heart of hearts is obvious, however. We only need consider the official weblog of GameFreak co-founder Junichi Masuda, who seized this particular moment to publish a series of retrospective articles on the making of Pokémon Red & Green. All in all, it’s as though GameFreak were conflicted about the ideal scope of the big twelfth celebrations, clearly wanting to translate their inner joy into a real-world commemorative fête but without mobilising the entire franchise. And so a compromise was found.

Tokyo event poster

Twelfth anniversary PC Tokyo event poster. Image credit: Pikachuftt.

It will not surprise you, then, that although well-attended, the PC Tokyo party also flew under the radar. It’s difficult here to separate cause and effect. We know for a fact that PC Tokyo didn’t do much to promote the occasion. After all, a staffer flat-out told blogger “mewsuki” that the number of visitors surprised him, for the Center “didn’t advertise the event very much”.3「あまり宣伝していないのに意外と希望者がいてびっくりしているのだそうだ」 Evidently, then, (at least some) authority to promote the PC Tokyo party rested with the PokeCenter itself which, perhaps quite naturally, chose to advertise locally only by way of in-store posters. Beyond this, it’s possible that event information was posted to the pokemon.co.jp “PokeCen” subpage (here). But if it was, no trace thereof remained by April 2008 when archival crawlers took the nearest snapshot, over a month post-event. Either way, absent a broader 12th anniversary tie-in campaign involving, at a minimum, PokeCenters elsewhere in the country, it’s perhaps only logical that gaming media didn’t pick up on the 2/27 celebrations. Perhaps this was for the better – first-hand accounts make it clear that PC Tokyo filled to capacity on the day, with long queues forming for entry and its various activities (see below). And frankly, there must have been a certain appeal to a pseudo-private party for the best-informed, most passionate of fans.4Daisuki Club Festas moved in this direction, including the PalCity-like membership party at Osaka’s giganic Kyocera Dome on February 24, 2008 which preceded the PC Tokyo event by just a few … Continue reading

In any case, given the dearth of publicity for both the 12th anniversary itself and its commemorative PC Tokyo party, it follows that the “TOKYO” egg special event distribution is also little known. Thankfully, several highly motivated fans blogged about the experience, and by drawing from their stories we can reconstruct the goings-on at PC Tokyo that day. Altogether we have at our disposal personal accounts by five fan-bloggers which, in light of the short duration and regional exclusivity of the event, is not bad at all. Unfortunately this relative abundance does not extend to photographs. Which is to say, I’ve not found a single picture taken inside the store on February 27, 2008 that isn’t of the event’s promotional poster that appeared in physical form at PC Tokyo and, by the looks of it, nowhere else.5Blogger “sheercold” wrote of taking his picture with several cosplaying PC Tokyo staff, but these images do not appear to be available online. As such, a little imagination is required to fill in the blanks. Well, here goes.

Bloggers Talk

So! Let’s take a look at the experiences of fans who had the opportunity to attend. Since primary sources are limited in number, rather than attempt to weave a hobbled narrative solely out of a handful of blogs, I think it’s better to relish what we have, quote at length and dissect pertinent portions where necessary. We’ll start with the succinct, less informative accounts and work our way up towards the more rich and elaborate.

First among them, “pika-025” (here):

“On February 27, 2008, at Pokémon Center Tokyo, there was an event where you could exchange and play with the staff. February 27 was the day Pokémon Red and Green were released 12 years ago! There [at PC Tokyo], they gave me a Pokemon egg. Pichu was inside. Its moves are Grass Knot, Return, Thunderbolt and Volt Tackle. Only at the Tokyo store.”6 … Continue reading

Well! There’s your first big reveal. The eggs held Pichu. Every last one of them! And the Pichu’s moves were indeed Grass Knot / Return / Thunderbolt / Volt Tackle. Moving on, to “mewsuki” (here):

“Twelve years ago, on February 27, Pokémon Red and Green versions were released. The history of Pokemon began. And on February 27, 2008, Pokémon were distributed exclusively at PokéCen Tokyo. Apparently not much is known about it. Next to the “Salamence Saikyou Distribution” flyer displayed at PC Tokyo, there was a small notice. And [when the day came,] I went to get the Pokémon. […] It was a weekday, but pretty crowded. I went to the Union Room in the back first. […] Maybe because today is the anniversary, there were lots of people waiting for their turn to battle. I am not good at battles.”

So far, so well-established. PC Tokyo promoted the anniversary event with an in-store flyer, an image of which you’ve seen above. And PC Tokyo’s fancy in-store trade and battle venue, the Union Room, was packed to capacity, as expected on an event day. Now for the novel, exciting stuff:

“A staff member wore a Pikachu cap, though some other staff did not. I asked him about it, and he said to talk to the staff with Pikachu caps. He said they exchange [Pokémon with fans] in the Union Room in the game. I found an older staff member who wasn’t busy and I asked him to trade with me.”

Two pieces of information are important here. First, staff donned what we may assume were Pikachu caps specifically prepared for the occasion. Which was thematic not only because, after all, it was still Onemuri Pikachu month, but also because Pichu evolves into Pikachu (d’oh). Second, the means of egg transfer was a direct trade between staff member and visiting player. This may seem trivial. However, set against Sinnoh’s widespread adoption of wondercard distribution methods entirely capable of handing out Pokémon as WiFi downloadable unhatched eggs, these direct exchanges can only have constituted a deliberate choice on part of the event organisers. All in all this represented a good call for the occasion, I think, for a proper trade with a fellow human being is that much more intimate and memorable.

Blogger “mewsuki” continued:

“When I asked for more details, I found out that there is only one Pokémon [Pichu], the same for every staff member. It was crowded… So I asked for just one [egg]. He [the staffer] said he was surprised that there were so many people who wanted to be a part of this event, even though the PokeCenter didn’t advertise it very much. I really wanted to get more [Pichu]. There might be nature differences or something. But I don’t have that thick a skull. Because there was a line to trade. […] You don’t want to ignore people in line and get in the way.”

Right! Where there’s a Pokémon party, there will be fans! In this paragraph, “mewsuki” makes it abundantly clear that only one Pokémon species was up for grabs, Pichu. Thus, the twelfth anniversary saw no GCEA-style distribution featuring an eclectic mix of Pokémon with the PokeCenter Tokyo name for its OTN. (Boo!) Despite this (or perhaps because of this), fans were exceptionally keen to get their hands on one. To be fair, the event poster that had advertised the event mentioned there would be “staff Pokémon exchanges”, so it’s conceivable that many turned up specifically for this reason. The prospect certainly was the great motivator for our five Pokébloggers.

“Mewsuki” concluded by saying:

“[I] bought a few Sleepy Pikachu cookies and other goodies, wandered around Ikebukuro [a Tokyo neighborhood, ed.] and returned home. I checked the egg. Its parent name was TOKYO. But when you hatch it, it takes on the player’s name. It’s hard to tell the difference [between a regular Pichu and this event Pichu]. I must be careful not to inadvertently send it out for trade!”

Here we learn another piece of information: When hatched, the Pichu egg took on the player’s OTN as well as TID. To be sure, this is normal behaviour for Pokémon eggs. But I want to draw attention to it because, in conjunction with the exclusivity of the event, it helps explain why these TOKYO Pichu so rarely surface these days. That is to say, even if you were to lay eyes on a freshly hatched TOKYO Pichu, would you be able to recognise it for what it is? Sans ribbons, cherish ball or distinctive, inalterable OTN, the only clue to its origins would be its moveset, and even then, exact recreations are possible through clever breeding. This replicability was, of course, an immediate point of concern, and the comment section to Pikachuftt’s blog warned of inevitable fakes doing the rounds.7In fact, Pikachuftt him/herself volunteered to hatch a couple of knockoffs and gift these to eager players who hadn’t been able to attend.

TOKYO PalPad

PC Tokyo staff “TOKYO” PalPad (top); hatched Pichu (bottom). Image credit: Pikachuftt.

Ah yes, the indomitable Pikachuftt! On their blog we learn that they couldn’t go in person, but were able to dispatch a friend to attend in their stead. And this particular amigo brought back what is perhaps the single largest haul of TOKYO eggs by any one individual: seven in total. As part of their usually thorough documentation, Pikachuftt uploaded a PalPad image of the staff member that their copy of D&P had exchanged with (OTN “TOKYO”). Pikachuftt also shared a picture of a TOKYO egg (obtained via link trade, date 2/27), and thereafter the same egg hatched into Pichu. Which, through a circuitous path of trades and donations, happens to be only one verifiable TOKYO Pichu that survives today (see below). In any case, since a friend deputised for Pikachuftt, there’s no first-hand account to study. But our remaining two bloggers, “sheercold” and “mie-kun”, more than make up for that with their extensive descriptions. Starting with the former, “sheercold” (here):

“There was an event to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the release of Pokemon Red and Green where you could play with the staff. I went to PokeCenter Tokyo. […] About the store. Staff members were walking around with DS Lites, and I could trade Pokémon with them freely. The number of Pokemon I could get differed depending on the staffer, but each person was limited to one species of Pokemon. I received an egg, which hatched out to be a Naughty Pichu♂. It knew Volt Tackle and Grass Knot, and had high IVs.”8「ポケモン赤緑の発売12周年記念でスタッフと遊べるイベントがあったので、ポケセン東京に行ってきました。[…] … Continue reading

DS Lites, hmm? So far, so well-known. “Sheercold” continued:

“When I went to the [store’s] Union Room, there were eight staff members available to play against. Four of them cosplayed as four Diamond & Pearl Trainers. You line up in front of them and when it is your turn, you battle. After the battle, regardless of whether you won or lost, you get a card. If you collected two cards, you got a “Champion Card”. In the afternoon, there was a huge line that went outside, so the registration closed early. Overall, there were only a few small children and many adults … even though it is a weekday.”9 … Continue reading10Should you be interested, “sheercold” described in some detail the flow of his battles versus the four staffers. He also gave their names or pseudonyms: Ryou-san (リョウさん), … Continue reading

Four Diamond & Pearl Trainers! Cool! Which ones, I wonder. Everlasting pity there aren’t any pictures of the event floating about. As for the “cards”, these were in fact postcards with an assortment of Pokémon depicted on them divided by typing – Fire, Ground, Psychic, and so on. For its part, the sole photograph of a “Champion Card” shows that it had Spiritomb, Garchomp and Lucario on it, which we may assume referenced Sinnoh Champ Cynthia’s team. Pretty neat. I wonder if there was a second postcard that depicted Cynthia’s Milotic, Roserade and Gastrodon.

Tokyo postcards

Participation postcards. Image credit: sheercold.

Last but not least, “mie-kun” (here):

“It was after 3:30PM when we arrived at PC Tokyo. There was already a line to play in the Union Room. It seemed that there had been a lot of adults waiting in line repeatedly since the morning to play against each other. (A staff member told me that elementary schoolers started to stand out after 3:00PM). We waited in line anyway. The rules of the match were 3-on-3 [Singles] either standard up to level 50 or unlimited. […] [Miyuki and Chibisuke [her children] were [mentally] prepared to lose their battles, but nonetheless enjoyed the standard rules and received [post]cards to prove that they had played against each other.”11 … Continue reading

What I don’t fully comprehend – and perhaps someone with superior knowledge of Japanese can enlighten me – is whether the kids battled one another to win a postcard, or whether they battled a staffer each. I assume it’s the latter. Either way, their losses confirm that the postcards were in fact participation prizes. As is only right. “Mie-kun” continued:

“After the match, we went to the PC Tokyo store to get a decorative sticker of Dragonite [see here]. Inside the store, there were more queues divided into two or three to trade Pokemon with staff, so we got in line again… I exchanged Pokemon eggs with a staff member. I was told that no matter which staffer you exchange Pokemon with, you will get the same type of Pokemon, although the gender and nature will be different. […] When I hatched the egg I received today, it was a male Pichu with a Jolly nature. I usually don’t name my Pokémon, but this time I named him “Tokyo” [とうきょー] as a commemoration.”12 … Continue reading

Triple queues, hmm? Busy times!

Eggs Across Time and Space

As we saw earlier, TOKYO Pichu are virtually indistinguishable from ordinary Pokémon because they lack defining characteristics and take on the hatching Trainer’s OTN/TID. For this reason players like “pikachuftt” preferred to keep their eggs as, well, eggs, lest they lose the signature “TOKYO” parent name. Presumably to satisfy their own curiosity as well as that of readers, “pikachuftt” did hatch one of their seven, a Quirky Pichu… Only to reset their DS without saving (thus returning the egg to its unhatched state) after snapping a few pictures of it.

egg and Pichu info

Egg and hatch details. Image credit: Pikachuftt

Given the combination of rarity and elusiveness, we may consider it fortunate that any indisputably authentic TOKYO Pichu survive at all. In fact, only one such egg with provenance exists. Which is – you guessed it – the Quirky Pichu egg whose characteristics “pikachuftt” displayed on their blog. We don’t know exactly how this particular unhatched TOKYO egg came to us across the corridors of time. A best guess is that “pikachuftt” gifted (or traded) it to a friend, who then passed it to another friend and so on, travelling down a lengthy, branching chain and circulating among traders before finding a home in Project Pokemon’s event archive. Alternatively, it’s possible that the Quirky egg was one of a package of three (!) donated to Japanese former event collecting hub Ahiru’s Wonderland by one “hiyoko” (ひよこ), where it was downloaded freely by members of the (inter)national Pokémon community in file format before Ahiru’s untimely demise sometime in 2008. Two other TOKYO Pichu eggs, Rash and Mild, are also thought to originate from this package. Unfortunately, this little archive is lost to time, and as such, we’re not fully certain of the causality. To locate this triple egg package is an ongoing quest.

It’s tricky to try and estimate the total number of Pichu eggs exchanged by PC Tokyo staff. But, given the multiple accounts of lengthy queues to snag eggs, plus that of players who purposely sought out a range of staffers to repeatedly trade for eggs, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the tally topped 500, pushing on a 1000. Intuitively this sounds like a lot, but it’s of course an infinitesimally tiny number for an official commemorative Pokémon distribution. Either way, it’s readily apparent that most fans in attendance were determined not to miss this one-time opportunity even if it meant queueing up for who knows how long.

Still, in a time before the conveniences of tool-assisted egg-gathering, the question arises just how PC Tokyo prepared for this distribution. Surely staffers were not burdened with manually collecting hundreds of Pichu eggs per person by biking back and forth in D&P’s Solaceon Town, which BDSP has reminded us in timely fashion is an exceptionally tedious, time-consuming and painful process.

In face of such a mammoth task, it would make vastly more sense if GameFreak engineered an automated solution for use by PC Tokyo. In other words, it’s entirely possible that GameFreak put together a distribution ROM that spat out eggs. Sadly, we can’t be sure. It’s logical to assume that PC Tokyo staff had the power to generate Pichu eggs at will to meet the (unexpectedly large!) demands of the day. On the other hand, the fact that PC staffers traded from savefiles with egg-matching Trainer names of “TOKYO” does suggest they possessed the infrastructure to manually gather Pichu eggs. The evidence from “Pikachuftt” their Quirky Pichu and the mystery Rash and Mild eggs is ambiguous. All have “met dates” – the date they were generated – of February 25, 2008, which might suggest some rapid-fire homogenised process like wondercard generation, but could equally imply they were part of the same batch by the same breeder. It’s tragic that “pikachuftt” couldn’t attend the event in person: Given their propensity to document distribution materials and methods (e.g. by photographing distro cartridges such as WHF Manaphy and 10th Deoxys) it’s likely they would have quizzed staffers about this. But alas!

So! With the (un)hatching of Pichu came to an end a small-scale, seldom remembered anniversary celebration. Red & Green’s twelfth is today mostly forgotten, but to Pokémon developers GameFreak, it was one of many important milestones on the sometimes bumpy road to enduring success. Who better to give the final word than “Elite Four” Junichi Masuda himself who, apprising enormity of the achievement behind him and expressing a still-burning passion going forward, had the following to say on, and about, February 27, 2008:

“February 27. On this day in Japan, the GameBoy software “Pokemon Red and Green” was released. That day Pikachu, Venusaur, Charizard, Meowth, Mewtwo and many other Pokémon were born into the world.

Yes, today is a great day for Pokémon, for GameFreak, and also a day of special significance for the staff who developed the game, including myself, Masuda. The staff from those days are still working energetically within the company to this day. And, today is a good day to look back where we came from.

To aim for high quality creation. Today, higher than yesterday. Tomorrow, even higher than today. That feeling is no different now than it was then. I will continue to cherish that feeling.

And… With the support of everyone around the world, we are able to celebrate this 12th anniversary. Truly, we are grateful. Thank you!

And yet, Pokémon will continue to evolve!”13The official English translation of Masuda’s blog by a GameFreak staffer is here: https://www.gamefreak.co.jp/blog/dir_english/2008/02/index.html. It sadly has some (grammatical) errors and … Continue reading

That’s all, folks!

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 From Nihonbashi.
2 See for example GWI for coverage of the store’s grand opening: https://game.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/20070601/poke.htm
3 「あまり宣伝していないのに意外と希望者がいてびっくりしているのだそうだ」
4 Daisuki Club Festas moved in this direction, including the PalCity-like membership party at Osaka’s giganic Kyocera Dome on February 24, 2008 which preceded the PC Tokyo event by just a few days. Masuda attended as a spectator and later blogged about his trip.
5 Blogger “sheercold” wrote of taking his picture with several cosplaying PC Tokyo staff, but these images do not appear to be available online.
6 2008年2月27日、ポケモンセンタートウキョーでスタッフと交換・対戦出来るイベントがありました。2月27日は12年前にポケットモンスター赤・緑が発売した日です。そこで貰えたのは・・ポケモンの「タマゴ」。中身はピチュー。技はくさむすび おんがえし 10万ボルト ボルテッカー。また東京店だけですね
7 In fact, Pikachuftt him/herself volunteered to hatch a couple of knockoffs and gift these to eager players who hadn’t been able to attend.
8 「ポケモン赤緑の発売12周年記念でスタッフと遊べるイベントがあったので、ポケセン東京に行ってきました。[…] 店内について。DSLiteを持ったスタッフが歩いていて、自由にポケモン交換ができました。もらえるポケモンはスタッフによって違い、一人一匹まででした。私が交換で貰ったのはタマゴで、やんちゃピチュー♂が孵りました。ボルテッカーやくさむすびを覚えている上、そこそこ高個体値というおまけ付き。」
9 「ユニオンルームに行ってみると、対戦できるスタッフが8人いました。そのうち4人がダイパ四天王のコスプレをしていました。その前に列を作って並び、自分の番が来たら戦います。戦った後に勝敗に関係なくカードがもらえ、2枚集めたら「チャンピオンカード」を手に入れる事ができました。午後には外まで並ぶ大行列になってしまったため、受付は早めに終了してしまったようです。全体的に小さい子供は少数で、大人の方が多い感じでした。皆さん、平日なのに仕事や学校は良いんですか」
10 Should you be interested, “sheercold” described in some detail the flow of his battles versus the four staffers. He also gave their names or pseudonyms: Ryou-san (リョウさん), Kikuno-san (キクノさん), Ooba-san (オーバさん), and Goyou-san (ゴヨウさん).
11 「なんだかんだでポケセントウキョーに着いたのが15時30分すぎ。既にユニオンルームは対戦のための列が・・・。どうやら午前中から対戦目当ての大きいお友達らが何度も繰り返し並んで居た模様(15時過ぎから小学生くらいの子達が目立ち始めたとスタッフの人が話してくれました)。1時間20分くらい待ちになるということだけど 取りあえず列に並びました。対戦のルールは3対3 レベル50までのスタンダートか 無制限のどちらか。[…] ミユキとチビ助の2人は負け覚悟でスタンダートルールでの対戦を楽しんで 対戦した証のカードをもらっていました。」
12 「対戦の後はカイリューのデコレーションシールをもらって ポケセントウキョー(店内)へ。店内では また2~3カ所に分かれて列が出来ており そこでスタッフがポケモン交換をしていたので また並び・・・。スタッフとは ポケモンのタマゴを交換してもらいました。どのスタッフと交換しても 性別や性格は違うけど もらえるポケモンの種類は同じとのことでした。[…] 今日もらったタマゴを孵したところ 産まれてきたのは 「♂」で「ようきなせいかく」のピチューでした。[…] 普段 ポケモンに名前を付けない私ですが 今回は記念ということで「とうきょー」と名付けてみました。」
13 The official English translation of Masuda’s blog by a GameFreak staffer is here: https://www.gamefreak.co.jp/blog/dir_english/2008/02/index.html. It sadly has some (grammatical) errors and glosses over a couple of phrases, which I’ve sought to correct (with a little help from DeepL). The result is a composite. Original Japanese, here: https://www.gamefreak.co.jp/blog/dir/2008/02/index.html