Pokemon has been a phenomenal success as a trading card game. Though it started in Japan, it quickly expanded to the United States, France, Germany, Italy, and other countries around the world. Pokemon cards printed in the original Japanese, however, are sometimes highly sought by collectors outside Japan. Understanding the value of Japanese Pokemon cards is important to getting the most value for your hard-earned money.
Japanese computer programmer Satoshi Tajiri designed Pokemon as a game for the Nintendo Gameboy, which was based on Tajiri's love of bug collecting. In 1999, the Gameboy game was turned into a trading card game in Japan and was quickly exported to the United States and other countries. Japanese cards are considered some of the best available cards for collectors, even if they do not speak the language. This may be because some Pokemon cards have images on them that Americans may find objectionable (such as the Swastika-like "omote manji") or the original Jynx which was seen as a racist stereotype of African Americans and was thus altered in color and design.
There are many types of cards and several factors affecting their values. First, the rarity of the card is a huge factor in pricing--both for Japanese-only and English-only cards--as well as the condition the card is in (the better the condition, the better the price). Also age is a factor in determining the value of the cards, as older, out-of-print cards are worth more than currently-available cards. Finally, the kind of card is important; energy or potion cards are relatively cheap while the actual Pokemon and certain award cards are worth more.
Japanese-only cards are printed for sale in Japan only, though a few entrepreneurs do export them to the United States. Most of these retailers of Pokemon cards operate online to reach a larger audience for their products. They sell individual cards, booster packs, and starter kits for a variety of prices.
Not all Japanese Pokemon cards are valuable, or at least more valuable than their English counterparts. Prices for individual cards can be as low as $1 or over $100 or more, depending upon the card, its condition, its rarity, and the market demand. For example, a Japanese "Aron" retails for about $1.50, A Japanese Beautifly retails for a little over $9.00, and a Sceptile EX retails for around $50. Japanese booster packs retail for the same price as English booster packs, however, and rarity tops all other considerations; Lugia EX in English retails for between $80 and $120, which is comparable to a Japanese version of the same card.
Japanese language cards can become more valuable in certain markets, but as a rule of thumb, they are usually the same price as English cards. The exception may be for the controversial cards that depict images that American consumers generally find offensive. For instance, the omote manji mentioned above is merely a geometric pattern in Japanese eyes, but to Americans, it is associated with Nazi Germany. As such, cards depicting it (such as Koga's Ninja Trick) were altered for American audiences. This may make the card more valuable to collectors, but not necessarily to average players.