TOKYO -- The global phenomenon that is "Pokemon Go," the smartphone app that has people wandering the landscape looking for virtual monsters to capture and battle, has begun to win the hearts of Japan's municipalities, who see it as a way to attract visitors and energize their economies.
On Wednesday, the four earthquake-wracked prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Kumamoto announced they are increasing the number of locations where people can play "Pokemon Go" and preparing events to highlight their regions' attractions.
"Pokemon Go" is a location-based augmented reality game from U.S. software developer Niantic and Pokemon Co., an affiliate of Nintendo that markets and licenses the Pokemon franchise. Released in Japan July 22, it is a game where people use the GPS capabilities of their smartphones to hunt for Pokemon that appear as they walk along streets, in parks, and at various other locations.
The four quake-struck prefectures, which suffered through the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, have partnered with the Japanese subsidiary of Niantic to enrich the "Pokemon Go" playing experience in their regions.
The prefectures will add more "PokeStops," locations where items can be collected to capture more Pokemon monsters, as well as more "gyms," where people can meet to match their captured Pokemon in battle. They also plan to add places where rare Pokemon appear.
Tie-ins are also planned, including excursion maps and coupons meant to promote local restaurants and local products.
Other parts of Japan are also jumping on the "Pokemon Go" bandwagon.
The Senbayashi Shopping Street in Osaka hosted an all-you-can-snatch event on July 30-31. A local merchant association purchased "Lure Modules," which temporarily attract Pokemon monsters to PokeStops, and the promotion worked so well that traffic on the street was double to triple the norm.
Akita Prefecture used Lure Modules to attract more people to the Akita Kanto Festival on Aug. 3-6.
One criticism of "Pokemon Go" is that people can get hurt walking around with their eyes glued to their smartphones or trespass in the effort to hunt for monsters.
That is less of a problem in the vast expanse of the Tottori Sand Dunes, and Tottori Prefecture Gov. Shinji Hirai has declared the sand dunes a free-play zone. Lights have been placed along stairways in the dunes so gamers can play safely even at night.