In the first part of this post I focussed mainly on the animal characters you see dotted around Japan’s public places. Here, I’ll move on to the various human mascots you see and then, well, those that define category.
Firstly, the (mostly) humans.
On the left here, we have a little man who looks like he would be at home in a Miffy book (who, incidentally, is very popular in Japan!), and he is cutely telling you “hey, don’t come in here, OK?” – I saw this on a building site full of burly Japanese builders. A bit of an incongruous message, if you ask me. On the right is a very old sign to be found next to a canal, which features the words “it’s dangerous here!” and a boy violently drowning who very well may be the same one from the building site. Hopefully not. Hopefully he was OK.
These two pictures are from a more commercial area of Osaka called Dōtonbori; it’s the place where all the cool kids hang out, and has many shops and restaurants and therefore a greater level of wackiness. For example, on the left above, a very jolly man with red cheeks is welcoming you to “Dōtonbori Paradise Mall”. No, really, he’s actually welcoming you. If that was a video you’d see his mouth, eyes and eyebrows moving. It’s kind of creepy, but also kind of cool. The picture on the right is just creepy. As far as I can remember, these four carved heads (in the shape of what I think is Japanese politicians) were to be found outside a quite classy bar.
So now we move on to those little mascots who are neither animal nor human but something quite unknown. Perhaps these are closer to true Pokémon. Have a look.
So here we have the Tin Woodman from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which I saw on the side of a train, painting a rainbow. It is in fact an advert for the Nanto bank, and the caption says “Let’s paint big dreams together”. Why a tin man, though, is beyond me. The picture on the right is a sign I would see around the town I lived in. It features…what IS that? It looks like either two blue birds back to back, or just a really strangely-shaped creature with arms. Anyway, it’s telling us that littering is forbidden and “let’s all make our town beautiful!”.
The little unhappy-looking thing on the left, who I saw at Osaka Aquarium, seems to be from the “Aquarium Expedition Team” (?!) as claimed by the text above his head, and seems to be employed telling of the dangers of climbing on the rocks. The significance of the leaf balancing on his head, though, is unknown. Finally, on the right, proof that not even bottled orange juice can escape being cute and happy in Japan.
So really, what is with all the adorable little people and animals and creatures all over even Japan’s most inane products and services? Why is everything so cute? Well, in the indigenous Japanese Shinto religion, absolutely everything in the world, animate or inanimate, contains a kami, or spirit, which is to be revered and respected. I can’t help but wonder whether this omnipresent culture of cute characters could be linked in some way. Maybe they are just representations of modern-day kami – the spirits of Japan.