Right...sorry for the wait. Hmm...it looks like my ideas are kinda outdated. I'm still gonna mention them anyway, since I already went through the trouble of writing them down, and afterwards try to draw some conclusions.
One important thing to keep in mind is this game is going to be massive.
Actually, even massive is an understatement.
In this case, with a bit of clever tweaking, there might be a place for everything that isnt too disruptive. As side stories and such.
Here I go then :
Or a story where the player received a letter from a diseased/lost/whatever person from Japan. Out of curiosity the character went there without any proper preparation and find clues about the person during the scenarios.
I strongly doubt anyone would, without any money nor preparations, leave his life behind, and go flying to Japan just out of pure curiosity for an email, when you recieve the most bizare spams every day. As for letter....if its from a random person from Japan....it wouldnt even make it to the border I reckon. Even if arrived, it would rise more questions, how did that person know your name ? why you out of all ppl on this planet ? its more likely to be a stupid joke, there are many jobless trolls.
Most ppl would just ignore it. . In the worse case, they'd contact police.
However, if that person was in fact a very close and important person to the protagonist, like his sister, it could work, even well.
He leaves everything he's on to and flies to Japan to search for her...where she used to live, what ppl she interacted with, also goes to police but they seem to be on a wrong lead, or refuse to share anything with him . He also meets ppl who offer to help him, like , maybe a very close female friend of his sister, who's just as affected by her suspicious dissapearance as he is , and maybe, some guy, with a very strong sense of justice, the embodiment of the japanese traditional values of a samurai, champ at kendo, who has once been helped by the protagonist's sister, and hasnt been able to repay that debt, now he wont rest untill he sees her in one piece again. Altho otherwise , he's a pretty silent and expressionless person, but with a very deep interiour, and huge valor. He prefers to stick away from the other two, and do his own search, but they eventualy end up in the same places, during the search.
The search would lead him from the mid of cultural festivals , to all kinds of places, and meet lots of other ppl, and make lots of friends on the way.
That, resuming most of the actual plot in a couple words. It would be a mature storyline.
Now for my own previous idea : instead of a bussinessman , the protagonist is ...
: 1. A young artist.
( So the plane has a defection, protagonist goes for a walk )....and on that walk, he spots some old colegue of his, that now lives in Japan, and they recognise each other. They were close way back, so she'll eventualy make him speak up about his misfortunes, and then tells him, that she's heard of excellent old artists, in that particular art style, who live in the countryside of Japan, and shows him a cool piece. But the thing is, they would never share his knowledge with someone who isnt good enough, and who wouldnt know japanese and have the manners and grace of a japanese.
The artist then becomes anxious to spend some time in Japan and eager to learn, and fortunately, his friend will lend him a bit of money, untill he gets a job, and also knows a place for him to sleep for a start.
And she also offers to give him some beginner's tips, she works as an english teacher, but she also started teaching japanese for total beginners, in a more unconventional way, altho she isnt very skilled at it either . This is where jibproduction's characters could kick in, but instead of the classical - wake up -> go to school -> go to part time -> sleep ; ....it changes into a more ... free and laid back environment.
2. : A young detective
...an ex genius prodigy, youngest detective ever, but now he's made a horrible mistake in one of his cases, and his career went downhill , and when on that walk, he spots a very dangerous criminal that escaped him a couple of times, and who's fault is that he's been demoted and in this pathetic state . He leaves everything to catch the damn guy and clear his name.
His search and questioning ppl will take him from traditional festivals, to the undergrounds of the japanese society , in his attempt to find clues about his nemesis, who seems to be plotting something big .
In his search will also be able to redeem his tormented soul, being touched by the incredible japanese culture, something like in " the last samurai "
But this would be much harder to implement, it would make the game exclusively story driven
Ok, now lets see what changed meanwhile :
Your story with the uncle and the competitors is actualy quite good, its intrigue is simple and easy to implement. And the idea of a competition is also motivating. However, about the rich uncle.
For your inhereting story idea my main problem was that most people couldn't relate to (or like) a character who cares so much about inhereting items and money from his uncle.
...I must admit i share jipproductions's feelings. But it depends what your aims with this game are, as well as what audiances you're gunning at. For the sake of a game which's main purpose is just learning japanese, it would work I think.
And with my ideas, I might be complicating things, just for the sake of a more dramatic story. Now that i go over what you've said again, my plots might look overdramatic, instead of focused on everyday circumstances. And the artist one, would be very apealing indeed....to artists
But back to the protagonist, maybe he's like that only in the beginning....and he changes on the way. Having some character development would certainly be a good thing.
But again, you said the scale was massive, so something could be pulled off, adapt whats good, and use it for side plots. You could even have different protagonists, in the same context, like in Ever17. Like, just as an example, have the path of the nephew and the path of the artist, and the artist's arc would be more focused on culture and manners. They could fly in the same plane , things happen in paralel, and protagonist and the artist to end up in the same class, even become buddies. But having different purposes. And at some point, you get to choose who you want to play with.
...but do we rly need different arcs just for that reason ?
Actualy the friendship between the protagonist and the artist could be just the thing that causes the first to open his eyes to japanese art; be that friend that keeps an eye, and tries to introduce him to all kind of cultural events
That way, even the original plane defection could be included....which, as an interesting observation, didnt matter at all for the guy going at his uncle since his stop was Tokio anyway ( and is barely even noticed by him ), but it had a major impact on the other guy's life, who ended up meeting his old colegue, and staying over in Japan.
Well...then again, this is just dramatic writter stuff, not how well this sort of thing is apreciated by western audiances.
and the artist's old collague could be an aquaintance, or friend of the uncle, and this is how the protagonist gets in that class. So she could become the teacher that jibproduction was speaking of
And like I said, she's offered to give some tips and small tests to the protagonist as well, in perspective of the test, that the uncle will give, as well as just everyday life.
The assistant male from jibproduction's idea, could be the kanji teacher, a friend of the -'artist's ex colegue' / now basic hiragana teacher -, since she doesnt know kanji well enough yet either, and she becomes a student herself at this stage.
.... oh, as a last thought, i even found a place for the detective's storyline in this plot.....the bad guy, who ended up causing him to make that big mistake that ruined his career , ...dont laugh ....could actualy be the uncle !
And the detective spots him, when he enters the car with his nephew , on the airport.... but the uncle has since, turned a good guy and regrets his actions, after he's gotten ill.
That could even be the reason the uncle calls for his nephew to inherit, instead of one of his old associats, he was a bad and cruel mafia guy involved in all kinds of crimes, but he's seen the wrong of his actions while he was being treated kindly in a japanese very beautifull place, like a hot spring station, when he was near death, he's seen the wrong of his ways, and he now wants to change.
So the detective could be a side character .
And while the player's enjoying his game , the detective's out there, gathering clues, only to make an entrance towards the end of the game, and deliver the twist !
...and for some mystery, you could change him to be the protagonist just for that little while when he's in the airport and ends up spotting the uncle, all in 1st narrative perspective....ofc the player doesnt know it yet...just for the mystery, give the player the sensation that there are serious things going on, from the very beginning
So that way, both the nephew, the artist, and the detective could be brought in the same storyline . And even the characters from the misterious dissapearance story . If the one that dissapears is actualy the artist's ex. colague....and the kidnappers could be some of the uncle's old associates, that are still bad....
....aaargh, this is madness ! Trying to merge all of the stories together . Well, i definately went too far .
Altho again, i'm not sure about all this dramatism, might not be the place for it in this kind of game. But, like you said its still early development phase, " no idea is too small or crazy at this point ", and it cant hurt for you to know how a possible main plot could look like. Its all here for you to check upon it.
Hope you arent completely confused yet