Fans of the Pokémon franchise in Hong Kong gathered outside of the Japanese Consulate in protest of Nintendo’s decision to change the local translations of the names of several beloved Pokémon, notably Pikachu.
The changes are a result of a decision by Nintendo to release upcoming franchise titles Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon only in traditional and simplified Mandarin Chinese. Previously, all Pokémon-related content had been released in several different translations tailored to account for cultural and linguistic differences in the region. The change has been met with backlash all over China, and the issue is particularly sensitive to Hong Kong due to recent cultural conflict with mainland China.
Cantonese is the traditionally written and spoken form of Chinese in Hong Kong, and a trend towards usage of Mandarin and simplified Chinese is viewed by some locals as an act of cultural imperialism on the part of the central Chinese government. In addition, the amount of educators using Mandarin has increased in recent years. A recent survey from the Hong Kong Free Press found that less than 40% of Hong Kong schools conduct primary instruction in Cantonese.
Hong Kong had previously existed as a colony of the British Empire since the mid-19th century, and now holds status as a Special Administrative Region of the Chinese government after the two governments negotiated a transfer of sovereignty that occurred in 1997. While Hong Kong’s status as a Special Administrative Region allowed it to keep its free-market economy, as well as independent representation in many world organizations, cultural tensions between the city and “mainland” China have come to a head in the last ten years.
Protestors have threatened to boycott the Pokémon series in response to the changes, and complain that the new names, when read in Cantonese, are pronounced significantly differently than the commonly known and accepted names. In a letter to fans, Nintendo of Hong Kong has apologized for the controversy and asked fans to continue to pronounce the names as they did before, despite the change.