The nameko, which the Wall Street Journal describes as “a gelatinous, light-brown, tack-size variety for the ordinary Joe,” was already one of the most widely cultivated varieties in Japan.
Now it’s wildly popular in Japanese pop culture thanks to a smartphone game called Nameko Saibai Kit, or “the kit for cultivating nameko.”
From the YouTube videos I’ve watched, gameplay seems simple: Your nameko grow on a log. When they’re ready, you harvest them. A good harvest allows you to upgrade your cultivation equipment, which in turn helps you cultivate more and rarer nameko varieties.
The Journal reports 32 million people have downloaded the game since it was released two years ago. For comparison, the mobile game Angry Birds has had more than a billion downloads so far.
Still, 32 million players is quite a few — that’s about equal to the combined populations of Texas and Missouri.
Imagine the opportunities for tie-ins.
Los Angeles-based Paramount Farms featured Angry Birds in its Wonderful Pistachios Get Crackin’ 2011 ad campaigns and also partnered for a pistachio-themed version of the game.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Chiquita Brands International did something similar that year when it teamed with Nintendo Wii for the video gaming system’s Donkey Kong Country Returns. The company also partnered with Sega of America Inc. in 2010 for the Wii game Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll, and Chiquita bananas were featured as a component of gameplay.
What if, in American versions of Nameko Saibai Kit, a Forest Nameko mushroom from Sebastopol, Calif.-based Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., were to pop up on a player’s growing log?
I can imagine preparation tips sprinkled throughout the game as gamers harvest the fungi. “Like playing Nameko Saibai? Here’s where you can find them and how you can fix them yourself!”