EDITORIAL: Travel frog hits China

Japanese mobile game captures imagination of would-be Chinese travellers

by Christopher Ledsham, M.A.

The overwhelming success of a Japanese mobile app game that sees players ‘follow’ a frog around Japan is tapping into the ever-growing wanderlust of Chinese netizens.

Despite only being available in Japanese, Tabi Kaeru (Travel Frog) become a hit among Chinese users, who account for the overwhelming majority of downloads of the game.

Produced by Japanese developer HitPoint and offered as a free download, the game requires little input from the player, who is responsible for feeding their digital avatar and helping it pack its bags, before sending it off to disappear ‘travelling’ for hours or even days at a time. The user’s travel frog will then venture to various destinations, sending postcards back to the player and returning with digital gifts.

While having been launched back in November 2017, the game went viral in China in January of this year – a trend boosted by players posting their postcards and other game-related updates on WeChat.

Conspicuously, it is the escapist travel fantasies of the game that seem to have particularly struck a chord among Chinese fans, notably counting significant numbers of working-aged adults among its user base.

“I wish I could be the frog I raised in the game as I would like to be able to go on a trip whenever I want,” Shanghai white collar worker Ge Yuan explained to the China Daily. “It’s like the life of a monk who lives life following his heart.”

The ability to travel “vicariously” through their frogs, is being highlighted by many as one of the most appealing aspects of the game.

“I envy this frog,” Zhou Mingmin – a programmer who had not asked for leave from work for the past two years – told Xinhua. “Each time I receive a postcard from my frog, I wish I were him.”

With Japanese landscapes and sites playing a prominent role as destinations in the game, Travel Frog will certainly do no harm in cementing the country’s imagine as a trendy outbound destination among the Chinese market, fulfilling the needs of the growing numbers of tourists taking their first trips beyond the Greater China region, as well as more-experienced travellers looking to escape for convenient city breaks and shopping trips. With close to 2.3 million Chinese arrivals in the third quarter of 2017, Japan was ranked the fourth most popular global outbound destination for Mainland citizens, coming behind only Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand.

As well as representing a chance to escape the stresses of the daily grind, Travel Frogs have come to be regarded by many in China as a surrogate child of sorts.

“My friends and I all call the frogs our ‘frog sons,’” Beijing student Gao Lang, 22, was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “After raising this frog, I suddenly understand the feeling of being a parent, at least partly. And I think when I am travelling somewhere far in the future, I will try to send some photos to my parents.”

Accordingly, on the cusp of the Chinese New Year holiday period – where records for the world’s “largest human migration” are set every year as hundreds of millions travel home to visit family, while growing numbers also flee to outbound destinations to escape the rush – even official Chinese channels are commenting on the Travel Frog trend as a means of promoting “core values”:

“The travelling frog is like everyone away from home,” the authorised party media outlet the People’s Daily wrote on its Weibo page.

“What’s the feeling of waiting for your kid? Please remember to visit your parents, all wandering frogs.”

Even in the form of a mobile game, it would appear that the desire of the Chinese consumer classes to travel as a means of escaping the pressures of daily life still needs to be balanced with familial obligations!

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