Design & Features

Limited Time Events in Japanese Mobile Games, part II – From Sakura to Matsuris

In this series of blog posts, I focus on limited time events in Japanese mobile games. This time we’ll go through Q2 and Q3 (April-September) of the year.

Events in Q2

When the Sakura (cherry blossoms) season starts in late March, or more commonly in early April, it shows everywhere. This is the most celebrated occasion in the Japanese society. As my Japanese language sensei (teacher) claimed, it is hard for a foreigner to explain or even understand the importance of cherry blossoms in the Japanese heart and soul. Sakura are gorgeous, but also symbolize the ephemeral nature of life (of the Buddhist tradition), mortality, and passing moments of beauty, while also being the national flower of Japan. During sakura season, the grounds beneath cherry trees are filled with people having a hanami, a flower viewing picnic with sake and delicacies. Mobile games are not an exception when it comes to sakura festivities and themes, and they are filled with beautiful in-game items and UI designs related to these blossoms – available until withered away.

Cherry blossoms all around in 三国志パズル大戦攻略
Cherry blossoms all around in 三国志パズル大戦攻略

Back to school: In Japan the school year starts in April and ends in February, while the longest break is held from late February until early April. April is thus the time when students are eagerly looking for school equipment and clothing, and are excited – or terrified for that matter – for the new school year. Mobile game developers use this buzz in their game sceneries as well, and the in-game events of this period often revolve around school. Characters wear school uniforms and there are school-related levels and stages to commemorate all the fun things campuses and learning can bring to everyone’s life.

Characters wearing school uniforms in ポップアップストーリー 魔法の本と聖樹の学園 during its school event

Easter, if commemorated in a Japanese game, resembles their Western counterpart (minus the Christian connotations) with chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies filling the scenery. Colourful and cute things are held in high regard among the Japanese people, so Easter fits in perfectly. It’s especially common to add limited time in-game objects related to Easter celebrations to games that contain decorative items.

Western influences are very visible in ディズニーの牧場ゲーム: マジックキャッスルドリームアイランド (a Disney farm game) during its Easter event

Golden Week (April 29th to May 5th): This is the national holiday week when basically every public establishment is closed. People travel long distances to see their families – and play tons of games while transporting or spending time in their hometowns, so it is the perfect moment to monetize with limited-time events and, especially, with limited-time IAP offers.

During Golden Week all of the games published by Asobimo were filled with different campaigns
During Golden Week all of the games published by Asobimo were filled with different campaigns

Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) is celebrated on the last day of Golden Week, on May 5th. Originally it was designed to honor boys but is now a day to celebrate children’s happiness and respect for mothers. Towns are filled with flags shaped like carps, one for each family member, and it’s a tradition to wear a Japanese military helmet, kabuto as a symbol of strength and vitality. Mochi cakes wrapped in leaves are served on this day. Commonly these elements are featured in Japanese games during Golden Week as well.

Much brave, such vital

June: the season of weddings… June might be the only month in Japan without a national holiday, but it is a popular time to hold a wedding ceremony. This stems from a rokugatsu no hanayome, the “June bride” concept. It is said that couples who marry during this month live happily ever after. During this month games are also filled with special versions of characters wearing bridal dresses or tuxedos, or the traditional Japanese wedding attire (Japanese people often combine the traditional Japanese Shintô ceremonies with Christian equivalents). In games that revolve around romance, proposal themes are thrown in by adding special storylines and men with rings and flowers in their hands – of course not forgetting beautiful brides.

“Marry me, big brother!” Me: “…I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with this scenario” *backs off slowly* (魔法科高校の劣等生 LOST ZERO)

…and the season of rains. June is not only for brides and grooms, but also infamous for its rainy season in Japan. The air will be damp and the country will experience constant rain for several weeks. However, game developers have utilized the concept of rain to their advantage. For example, gachas feature limited time versions of attractive characters wearing their special rain attire or all wet and bothered. Get them now while they last!

Now you may see me wearing my rubber boots. Isn’t this fabulous?! (夢王国と眠れる100人の王子様)

Events in Q3

Beach-themed events Summers in Japan are *hot*, and beaches become especially popular during July and August, which is also a typical time to take a break from school. In fact, the newly established Day of the Ocean (Umi no Hi) is celebrated on the third week of July. This can be seen in the games’ interfaces as well. It’s very typical for the characters in mobile games to wear beach attire during at least one summer event, and fans of characters are likely to spend extensive time (and money) to receive a rare, and commonly scantily dressed version of their favourite virtual babe or stud. Beach-themes are common in limited-time items as well.

“Unleashing the power of sexy swimwear. Evil beware!” (Bleach: Brave Souls)

Tanabata, the Star Festival is held on either 7th of July or August, depending on the location within Japan. It commemorates the annual meeting of deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair). According to the legend these two are lovers that are normally separated by the Milky Way, but they are able to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month. During Tanabata it is customary to write one’s wishes on a piece of paper and hang the paper on a specially erect bamboo tree in hopes for the wish to come true. Some of the local Tanabata festivities include a glorious firework show too. Mobile developers can feature the themes of stars, bamboos, colourful papers and deities in their games as well.

エレメンタルナイツオンライン and its Tanabata event

夏祭り or 花火祭り (Natsu Matsuri / Hanabi Matsuri): There are countless of local festivities around Japan during August since almost every shrine has one of its own, celebrating its own deity. On their designated day, the deity of the shrine is carried around town on top of a mikoshi. Many festivals also have festival Floats, which are pulled through the town accompanied by flute and drum music played by the people riding on the floats. The festivals are different depending on where they are held with local unique characteristics, such as traditional dancers, lanterns and fireworks – or even snow creations. You may put on your best yukata (cotton kimono) and go enjoy all the festival street delicacies and beautiful fireworks – in-game too!

ディズニーの牧場ゲーム: マジックキャッスルドリームアイランド featured traditional festival items and costumes during the Summer Matsuri event

Obon (お盆) is a Buddhist event to commemorate one’s ancestors. During the festival people visit their families as it is believed that the spirits of the ancestors visit the family shrines. It’s also traditional to put offerings such as food and sake on the the family graves alongside cleaning them. In Kyôto five grand bonfires are lit around the mountains surrounding it, and candlelit lanterns are placed in rivers around Japan. Additionally, bon Odori dancers are a prominent feature in festivals.

Ancestors are respected in なむあみだ仏っ

Interestingly, last year (2016) the Japanese government introduced a brand new national holiday; Yama no Hi (Day of the Mountains), which is held in August 11th. Since on this day the citizens are expected to pay their respect to the mountains and receive their blessings, many will go trekking on one of the many beautiful mountains in Japan. In fact, August is the most popular month to hike Mount Fuji as the trails all the way to the top are open, unlike during other times of the year. We shall see how prominently this day will be featured in games, but I suspect hiking gear and mountains will be featured on a yearly fashion.

This time we’ve seen some swimsuits and rain gear. Have these given you any ideas for your own games? Next time I’ll not only list the biggest celebrations of Q4 but will give you some hints & tips on how to make the most out of continuous in-game events in your mobile game, so keep on watching this space for more! ^^

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As the Chief Game Analyst – Japan at GameRefinery Taija Kanerva is living her dream. Her interest and enthusiasm for digital games and Japanese culture started early in her childhood and later became the focus of her formal education. Her Master’s thesis (2015) for University of Helsinki compares Japanese and Western games and gaming cultures. She has held positions at Rovio and Ubisoft before joining GameRefinery in 2016.