Eleven-year-old Stephen Langsam prefers Japanese-language Pokemon cards to the English version. But when he plunked down $6 for a pack last month, he was upset to find one that included what he thought was a swastika.
The red mark alongside the Pokemon characters Golbat and Ditto was a "manji," a mirror image of the Nazi swastika. In Japan, where the symbol predates the Nazis by centuries, it means good fortune and can also represent a Buddhist temple.
But to Stephen, his friend Marc Specht and their Jewish families, it was a Nazi swastika, the spidery symbol of hate and the Holocaust, and it didn't belong in a children's game.
"We thought there had to be something we could do because it can be terrible for children," said Marc's mother, Myla Specht.
Nintendo of America, which makes Pokemon products, announced Thursday that the card will be discontinued.
"What is appropriate for one culture may not be for another," the company said in a statement.
The Japanese-language cards were not meant for sale in the United States. A licensed domestic vendor that manufactures Pokemon cards in English plans to issue the same card -- without the swastika -- late next year.
Many were imported without company approval to feed demand by collectors.
While the card's Japanese creators continue to believe the "manji" carries a positive message, "they also understand that there is the potential for others to misunderstand the symbol," the Nintendo statement said.
Kenneth Jacobson, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, said the decision "showed sensitivity to the feelings of Jews and others to whom the swastika is a very offensive symbol."
"We recognize there was no intention to be offensive, but goods flow too easily from one place to another in the world," he said. "The notion of isolating it in Asia would just create more problems."
Steve Weisman, who was upset when a 10-year-old boy found the symbol in a Pokemon pack sold at the Collectible Outlet in Oceanside, said Nintendo should do more "maybe a contribution to a Holocaust group," he said.
"Whether it was done on purpose or not, it created ill feelings," Weisman said. "The whole premise of the game is kids having fun. This reminded people of 6 million deaths."
But Larry Rosensweig, a Jew who is director of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Fla., said opposition to the symbol was "misplaced indignation."
"This has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Nazis or anti-Semitism," he said. "There are plenty of things out there that people should be offended about. Put your indignation into some more productive and appropriate fight."