Around 20 protesters participated in a protest against Pikachu’s impending name change on Monday. Pikachu is the iconic character from the popular Japanese cartoon franchise Pokémon.

Groups such as the populist Civic Passion and gaming-focused Lonely Media organised and participated in the demonstration. It began at Chater Garden in Central and ended at the Consulate-General of Japan. They carried banners which said “Protect Hong Kong-translated names. No to Pei Ka Yau, give me back Bei Ka Chiu.

The original, Bei Ka Chiu, is closer to the original “Pikachu” than the new name, Pei Ka Yau, in Cantonese.

protest against pikachu new name
Protesters against Pikachu’s new name. Photo: Stand News.

The use of the Hong Kong translation of names as opposed to their Mandarin counterparts have become a controversial issue in recent years as Mandarin is increasingly seen to be affecting the status of Cantonese in the city. A study published by the Neo Democrats recently revealed that less than 40% of primary schools teach Chinese language in Cantonese.

‘Collective memory’

Sing Leung, the deputy editor of Lonely Media, said that in 20 years, Pokémon has become a collective memory for a generation of Hongkongers and there are cultural differences between Chinese speaking territories. He said that Nintendo, the publisher of Pokémon games, was trampling on Hong Kong culture when it insisted on uniting all Chinese names.

“Of course, many think that this is only a gaming company’s decision to change a name on one of its products. But being in Hong Kong now, being part of this generation of Hongkongers, we are facing a lot of cultural whitewashing.,” said Civic Passion’s Wong Yeung-tat. “Protecting Hong Kong culture [and] protecting Cantonese culture has become something that our generation cannot run away from.”

Protesters tore up the new names for the Pokémon franchise and wanted to hand a letter to the Japanese Consul-General Matsuda Kuninori. However, they were stopped by security personnel, who later accepted the letter on behalf of Matsuda instead.

Over 6,000 people signed a petition addressed to Nintendo in March requesting that the names be switched back to their Hong Kong versions, but Nintendo stood by the new Chinese names.

Games and protest

Dan Garrett, a City University PhD candidate studying Hong Kong protest culture, told HKFP that Civic Passion have a strong youth following.

“The younger, post-modern, generation of Hongkongers have grown up with many cultural products that have been incorporated and internalised as local elements of [their] cultural and identity,” he said. “The move by Japanese companies to abandon Pikachu’s original name in hope of expanding access to the mainland Chinese market inevitably taps many concerns over similar identity politics locally.”

He said that recent moves by the Chinese and HKSAR governments to stoke anti-Japanese nationalism in Hong Kong “inescapably probably (for some) gets caught up in this as well.”

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.