Pokémon Go Is At The Center Of An International Incident Because Of Course It Is

The Chinese group that took over the Yasukuni Shrine's gym in Japan told BuzzFeed News that it was an impromptu move as they were exploring the newly-released Japanese server.

Japan, the original home of Pokémon, finally released the wildly popular Pokémon Go on Friday morning. But players from China, where the game isn't out yet, have flooded the servers.

Toru Yamanaka / AFP / Getty Images

This screenshot of a Dragonite — named "Long Live China!!!!" was posted on Reddit and immediately caused a huge stir.

It wasn't just the name that got people riled, but the location of the gym it was placed over: the Yasukuni Shrine.

Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images

China and Japan have a long and tumultuous history with each other, but most of their current problems go back to World War II, when Japan invaded China.

That history is why Yasukuni Shrine is so controversial. It's where everyone who died while fighting for Japan, including in World War II, is honored and most people in China see it as offensive whenever Japanese leaders visit it.

The user who posted the screenshot to reddit said the offending Pokémon belonged to a group of Chinese players, who faked their GPS location to access the Japanese server, taking control of the gym as an act of patriotism.

BuzzFeed News reached out to the group of Chinese Pokémon Go players, who confirmed that they were accountable of the act and spoofed their GPS to explore the Japanese server.


"We were just trying out the new Japanese server, and some in the group spotted Yasukuni Shrine by accident," said a main group member, a 26-year-old Shanghai-based player named Yang. (Yang was only willing to be identified with his surname.) He went on to deny that taking over the gym was a patriotic act, saying it was a spur of the moment decision.

"We just wanted to play, we didn't imagine the result" Yang said, referring to the explosion on social meadia, as thousands of Chinese people commented on Weibo. "You know what Yasukuni Shrine means to China," added Yang, a foreign company post-sales representative, during the interview conducted in Mandarin over voice chat.

About fifty members of the group — whose "official" name is "CN_Pokémon Go" — "flew" to China via GPS manipulation during the trip that caused the stir.


CN_Pokemon_Go, Yang explained, has three subgroups for new players, two advanced subgroups, and an elite subgroup that aims at finding tricks and sharing experience in which "every member remembers every name of all the Pokémons."

A Chinese Reddit user guessed the method of the virtual trip to Japan: "all I know is that they use a cracked version with built-in GPS spoof function and a walk simulation function." (Yang confirmed that was the case in his interview.)

Other players hope Niantic, the company that developed the game, will ban the Chinese spoofers.


But the group announced in Baidu Postbar, a Chinese social media platform, that it will archive the accounts of the players who placed their Pokémon on the shrine and compensate them with new accounts.

Meanwhile, on mainstream Chinese social media, the Pokémon trainers are being lauded. "Excuse me, do you still need girlfriend, the kind as patriotic as you?" asked a popular Weibo comment.

"I almost picture my grandchild reading history textbooks depicting this national hero," read another.

"This is the post-90s way [of patriotism], the old men and women wouldn't know how to do it."


(Note: It helps that China is in the midst of an uptick in nationalism — e.g. banning iPhone, lusting over Wang — thanks to a recent loss in an international court, even when Chinese state media has called such protests "irrational.")

But of course, not every Chinese player agreed. "This is a game, we are here to enjoy it and we don't need this patriot shit," said one redditor.

Meanwhile in Japan, one Twitter user reacted by saying "I must beat this guy!"

倒さなくては! #靖国 #ポケモンGO ポケモンGO海外遅報 : 中国偽装GPS勢、靖国神社ジムを制圧し公式アカウントが話題に https://t.co/P0MABRU9YK

While another asked the very genuine, but dangerous question, "is this the beginning of the first Pokémon proxy war?"

"You can say we are poor, we don't have the money to go abroad [to where Pokémon is available]," said Yang, who has been a big fan of Pokémon and Pokémon games since childhood. "But we just wanted to play and look at the virtual world."

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But the group also sent out a chilling warning on Chinese social media about Taiwan, their next target. "When the Taiwanese server becomes available, we will team up and prevent [people from other countries to] take over gyms there. Because Taiwan is China's," said Yang.