Since 2004, the Pokémon World Championships have popped up in different cities each year. The locations were restricted to North America until last year’s in London, and the event finally made it home to Japan this year. Usually, the events are constrained to inside the convention center where the competition takes place, but The Pokémon Company went all out with the festivities in the surrounding city of Yokohama this year, which turned into a grand celebration of the beloved brand.
The inside of the PACIFICO Yokohama Convention Center, the competition HQ, included the “normal” level of decoration celebrating Pokemon, from banners and photo opportunities spanning the halls, a faux field rest area complete with cherry blossom trees, and a thematic main stage, this time expertly decorated with landmarks of Yokohama, Japan.
Pokemon World Championships 2023 Stage
But there was much, much more to the event this year than just inside the event center itself – the iconic Ferris Wheel in the Yokohama skyline flashed with Pokémon graphics; Pokémon statues and giant Pokémon card replicas could be found in parks and malls, and Pokémon photo opportunities abounded. There was even a map of all the Pokémon opportunities around the city to help fans catch ‘em all. Those were just the semi-permanent installations.
Pokemon Takes Over Yokohama
Before the main event, we saw a beautifully arranged symphony celebrating Pokémon and the championships, and during the week there were multiple Pikachu gatherings, parades, drone shows, stage shows, and more. We watched a musical stage show called “Imagination” featuring Pikachu, Lucario, Cinderace, Zeraora, and Greninja dancing alongside human performers in a performance reminiscent of one you might see at a Disney Park.
A “Japanese styled summer festival” was held at the waterfront Rinko Park behind the convention center. Called Pokémon Matsuri Park, fans could enjoy special arrangements of Pokémon music, play Pokemon-themed festival games, and participate in an extravagant stage show featuring taiko drums, costumed dancers, and the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet starters Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly, along with Pikachu. (You can watch the adorable choreography in the official video here.) The sweltering temperatures were well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), but Full Restore Tents assisted patrons with mist fans and shaded seats. (Where were these at Warped Tour?)
Pokemon Matsuri Park
We truly couldn’t go anywhere in the surrounding area without seeing something related to Pokemon.
“That is us trying to bring a part of Worlds to a larger part of the Japanese audience than just can enter this physical space [of the convention center],” said Chris Brown, The Pokémon Company International’s director for global eSports and events producer. “Obviously, Pokémon is really important to our Japanese fans and there’s a lot of them. And Worlds coming here for the first time, we knew the demand to be on the show floor … would exceed how many fans [it could hold].”
“We can only hold 10,000 to 15,000 people in here. So it became a question of, ‘How do we still bring worlds to 100,000 people? How do we make sure that as many people as possible can get a little bit of the Worlds’ experience, even if they can’t come inside here?’”
And so The Pokémon Company worked with the city of Yokohama to create these many, many Pokémon displays and activities.
“This time we may have done a lot really, because we were all so excited to finally have the event in Japan. So we really went all out with these extra activities,” said Takato Utsunomiya, the Chief Operating Officer of The Pokémon Company.
“One example of maybe going a little bit too far, there’s a big boat out there … the Nippon Maru that’s like seven floors. It’s a massive vessel. We were able to work with that, to have all these different areas where players can go and battle each other within the ship,” Utsunomiya explained.
Pokemon Trainer Cruise – Nippon Maru
The S.S. Anne from the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue games for the Game Boy heavily inspired the Pokemon-ified cruise ship (that remained docked for the voyage). Not only were there specific battle and trading areas for both the trading card game and video games, but framed Pokémon art graced the walls, the S.S. Anne theme reminiscent of Pachelbel’s Canon in D played over the speakers, and visitors could collect Pokémon stamps to decorate their boarding ticket for a souvenir. You could even open trash cans to look for “items” with varying levels of success.
“There’s really a lot of attention to detail. I don’t know if I can promise this for future events,” Utsunomiya concluded.
Though there are no promises about the ever-growing scale of The Pokémon World Championships, there is some speculation and hope.
“I think our goal is to always be growing, because that creates more accessibility for fans,” Brown said. “I can’t really comment on the specifics … but if you put on a five-year lens, absolutely. I hope this show is maybe even five or 10 times the size. Who knows?”
Check out our other coverage on Pokémon Worlds: