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June 6, 2024 10 mins

Kids can do amazing things, as you'll learn during today's tour through the Cabinet of Curiosities.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

A group of young boys, a shipwreck, a deserted island.
In William Golding's nineteen fifty four novel The Lord of
the Flies, these are the ingredients for Disaster, A harrowing
cautionary tale about what happens to our humanity when we
are removed from society's rules. But, as six Tonguan schoolboys discovered,
sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. On September eleven of

nineteen sixty six, Australian fisherman Peter Warner was sailing in
the South Pacific when he spotted a tiny island in
the distance. Now this wasn't unusual. This island called Atah
was marked on his map. What was unusual was that
the uninhabited island had large scorch marks in the green
vegetation covering it. As he drew closer, he began to

hear shouts coming from the island, and then one of
his crew called out someone was swimming toward them. The
young boy who arrived at their ship was covered in dirt,
with long hair, stiff with salt. He looked like he'd
been living alone in the wilderness for years, so it
was surprising when he spoke in polite boarding school English.
His name, he said, was Stephen, and he and his

five friends had been stranded on Ata for fifteen months.
A year earlier, in June of nineteen sixty five, Stephen
and his friends had been students at a boarding school
in Nukuwa Lofa, the capital on the island nation of Tonga.
The sixteenage boys named Stephen, Luke, Sioni, David, Colo and
Mano were all of their tiny island and yearned for adventure,

so they came up with a plan. They would steal
a fishing boat and sail for Fiji, five hundred miles
away to finally see some of the world. Like most
teenage plans, this one wasn't very well thought out. The
six boys, armed with very few supplies and no compass
or map, took the boat one night and set out
on their adventure. Just as the lights of their town
faded in the distance, a storm set in. The boys

lost their anchor and the winds ripped through their sail,
setting them adrift on the ocean. Finally, after eight days,
they sighted a smudge on the horizon. They finally had
found land, the deserted island of Ata. Mano was the
first to set foot on land. He was so weak
he could only crawl when he reached it, But as
he realized that he'd found safety, he recalled that he

felt more alive than he had ever before. One ordeal
was over, but another had just begun. The first weeks
on the island were all about survival. The boys, weakened
by their journey in the boat, caught birds and found
their eggs in a them raw. They also discovered that
the island was small, perhaps a four hour walk from
end to end, and they relocated to a grove of

coconut palms. They collected rain water in leaves and gathered
papaya and coconuts, slowly rebuilding their strength, but still they
were unable to rub sticks together hard or fast enough
to build a fire. It took them three months before
they finally made a spark, but they celebrated with their
first hot meal. Since their adventure began weak as they were,
they still focused on finding a way home. They quickly

found sailing was not an option. When they set a
raft that they had built out into the water, they
couldn't get past the reef, so the boys settled in
for a long wait for rescue. Life on the island
was surprisingly orderly too. The six castaways took turns keeping
watch for ships, maintaining the fire, and building and repairing
a woven palm frond shelter. The boys even found time

for fun on the island. They built a rudimentary bench
press and weights out of sticks and rocks, and one
of them even salvage steel rings to make a ukulele.
And to deal with disputes, the group implemented a cool
down rule. Any people fighting would be separated during the day,
then the whole group would talk over the problem together
at nights before saying their prayers. And the boys lasted

like this for fifteen whole months, making the best of
island life and dreaming of home. And then one day,
when a passing cruise ship seemed close enough to see them,
they lifted a signal fire on top of the island.
The ship sailed on, but the fire burned through the brush,
leaving dark, ugly patches in the uniform green veiling the island.
And this is what Peter Warner saw A week later

when he finally found the boys. From aboard his boat,
Peter radioed Nukua Lofa, telling them that he had found
six teenage boys. Moments later, a breathless voice replied their
families had given them up for dead. They'd even had
funerals for them. If these were the six missing boys,
then this was a miracle. Peter Warner sailed back with

the six boys to Tonga, where they were finally able
to see their families after more than a year away.
After the boys had recovered, Peter hired them as crew
on one of his fishing boats, and this way Peter
made sure that the boys could still see the world
without being left high and dry. His name was Satoshi Tajiri,

and in the late nineteen sixties, he was a young
kid growing up in the rural outskirts of Tokyo, A
quiet misfit who struggled to fit in. He loves spending
time alone outdoors, chopping through the woods, rice paddies, and
streams that surrounded his home. He fell in love with
the local wildlife and soon developed a passion that would
change the course of his life and the world forever.

That passion bug collecting. If it sounds like an unusual
hobby for a young boy, then you're most likely coming
from a Western perspective. Especially in the US, we tend
to think of insects as creepy, gross, and sometimes even dangerous,
But bugs and insects have long been revered in Japan.
This may be due to the influence of Shinto, Japan's

traditional religion. In Shintoism, all aspects of nature deserve respect.
Even a single river, stone or insect may be inhabited
by spirits called kami. We can see the reverence toward
insects everywhere in Japanese culture, from art to literature. Beetle
wrestling matches are frequently televised, and there's a massive bug

catching supply industry catering to hobbyists. It's a time honored
tradition for children to spend their summers searching for the
most unique insect so they can take them home and
raise them as pets. All of which is to say.
It wasn't Shatoshi's hobby that was unusual, it was his
passion for it. Everything about insects fascinated him, from their

odd appearance and the funny way they moved, to the
fact that there always seemed to be more species to discover.
He loved plotting new ways to catch them. For instance,
he observed that beatles like sleeping under stones during the day,
so he left a stone under a tree overnight. When
he came back the next morning, the beatles were waiting
for him. Eventually, Satoshi's passion for insects earned him a

bit of a reputation. The other kids started calling him
doctor Bug. For a while, he thought that he would
grow up to become an entomologist. But this isn't the
story of a kid who followed his dreams and discovered
a new species of caterpillar. Sadly, Satoshi's bug collecting days
were numbered. During the nineteen seventies, Tokyo's urban sprawl continued
to push outward, eventually swallowing Satoshi's neighborhood. As forrests were

replaced with skyscrapers and arcades, Insects and other wildlife became
more rare, sights, but Satoshi was still just a kid
finding his way in the world, and like many Japanese children,
he found his interest shifting to a new subject like
manga and video games. He was still as passionate and
obsessive as ever, though, and when he was just seventeen,

he created game Freak, a strategy magazine for gamers that
included cheat codes and other strategy tips. It was a
very small operation. The magazine was handwritten and photo copied.
The pages were staple together, and Satoshi distributed them by hand. Still,
he found a hungry market, and for one issue he
sold ten thousand copies. Pretty soon he was cutting classes

to run his small business. His parents, though, were less impressed.
They thought their son was a delinquent who had lost
his mind to video games, but Satoshi stuck with it.
At the time he was twenty five, he learned to
code and was toying with turning Game Freak into a
video game company. That year, inspiration struck when Satoshi encountered
Nintendo's new game Boy. What made this handheld interesting was

the fact that you could connect it to another system,
allowing players to compete or swap data back and forth.
As he held the game boy, Satoshi suddenly envisioned the
data as insects scurrying from one player's game to another,
and instantly an idea wormed its way into Satoshi's mind,
and when he sat down to work on his new game,
he found himself thinking back on those summer days before

he set foot in an arcade. He realized that the
world he'd grown up in was now gone, but maybe,
just maybe he could still recapture the feeling that he
had gotten chopping through the woods searching for insects. Drawing
from his childhood hobby, Satoshi put together a pitch for
a game called Capsule Monsters, which he managed to sell
to Nintendo. It took six years to actually finish the game,

and by the time it was released, the name had changed.
You've probably heard of it too. Satoshi created the first
Pokemon game. Today, the series is worth ninety two billion dollars,
making it the highest grossing media franchise of all time.
I didn't misspeak. Satoshi's creation isn't just the best selling
video game series. It's the single most lucrative ip of

any kind, Bigger than Star Wars or Harry Potter or
the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Mickey Mouse, and all because
of a boy who loved to catch bugs. I hope
you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities.
Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about

the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show
was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how
Stuff Works. I make another award winning show called Lore,
which is a podcast, book series, and television show, and
you can learn all about it over at the Worldoflore
dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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