Lesson #1: Find Inspiration in your Outside Interests

Tajiri never liked going to school. His father wanted him to study to become an electrician, but that was the farthest thing from Tajiri’s mind. Instead, Tajiri split all of his spare time between two activities: first, was roaming the forests and fields near his family’s home in his quest for insects.

“The place where I grew up was still rural back then. There were rice paddies, rivers, forests. It was full of nature,” says Tajiri. “I was really interested in collecting insects.” In the late 1970s, however, the forests and fields began to get paved over with apartments. “Development started taking place, and as it grew, all the insects would decrease,” he says. “The change was so dramatic. A fishing pond would become an arcade centre.”

Tajiri’s second passion was playing video games in the local arcades. He spent so much time there, and was such a devoted customer, that one arcade even gave him a Space Invaders machine to take home with him. “It was as sinful as shoplifting,” Tajiri says. “My parents cried that I had become a delinquent.”

If video gaming is a sin, then Tajiri has managed to become one of the most successful delinquents in history. Indeed, it was by turning his two passions, his two side hobbies, into a business, that he was able to make himself the success he is today.

“I was really into Space Invaders in about 1978,” says Tajiri. “It got me more and more interested in video games. There wasn’t any media to get information about games, so I came up with Game Freak magazine.” Tajiri did not have much money, nor did he have experience in publishing magazines, but what Tajiri did have was a passion for playing games, and for sharing what he knew with others.

“It was handwritten. I stapled the pages together,” says Tajiri. “It had techniques on how to win games, secret tips for games like Donkey Kong.” And those secrets helped Game Freak take off. “The biggest sales were for a special issue on the Zabius game. We sold 10,000 copies. It cost 300 yen each,” recalls Tajiri. “So when I was 18, I already had a business going.”

With Game Freak, Tajiri had found a way to turn one of his passions into a business. Could he do it again, he wondered? “Places to catch insects are rare because of urbanizations. Kids play inside their homes now, and a lot had forgotten about catching insects. So had I,” says Tajiri. “When I was making games, something clicked and I decided to make a game with that concept.”

As a young boy, Tajiri loved to catch and trade insects. Now that that was no longer a possibility for many children, Tajiri thought they might like to do it virtually instead. He wanted to give today’s kids the same chance to hunt for creatures that he used to have.

“Everything I did as a kid is kind of rolled into one – that’s what Pokemon is,” says Tajiri. Playing video games, watching TV, collecting insects – they all became ingredients for the game.

And that is why the main character in Pokemon is named Satoshi, after its founder. “Basically, he’s me when I was a kid,” Tajiri says.

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