Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Problem with Yuru-chara

皆さん あけましておめでとうございます! Happy New Year, everyone! Long time no blog, but more on why that is, and what I've been up to (family visits and winter holidays, yay!) in future blog posts. Today, there are more dire issues on the agenda. So, without further ado...

These days, most people have two main ideas about Japan: the unique, timeless culture which encompasses things like temples, geisha, tea ceremony, calligraphy, samurai,...and the wacky, weird pop culture we see in things like anime, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu videos, and Japanese advertisements:

As a kind of disclaimer, I'm pretty sure most Japanese people think this shit is bananas (zing!), just like you guys. That being said...I've seen my fair share of weird things in Japan - things I'm concerned about. I'm going to share a few of these strange things with you. and today, we're starting with: characters.

As you may be aware, Japan is a nation obsessed with characters. Nowhere else on Earth is it as acceptable for a full-grown woman to ensure every aspect of her life is plastered with Hello Kitty's face (I'm not describing myself, I swear...) as Japan.

But peoples love of characters extends beyond the realms of Sanrio, Tokyo Disneyland, and Pokemon Centres. In fact every prefecture, and many cities in Japan have their own character/mascot, known in Japanese as yuru-chara (ゆるキャラ). Tochigi's is a very cute, sporty-looking fellow called Tochimaru-kun.
His head is made of a horse chestnut, which can found all over Tochigi.
My city, Utsunomiya, has a lovely fairy called Miyari-chan. I saw Miyari-chan out and about just last weekend. She was promoting some kind of vitamin drink. I got a free sample. Thanks, Miyari-chan!

Miyari turns up at various community events.
Yuru-chara are so popular, it's estimated that character-based sales reached $16 billion in 2012. There is even a Yuru-chara Grand Prix, where the public can vote to determine the most popular character. In 2013, Sanomaru-kun from the town of Sano, Tochigi, was voted number one.

How could they not have voted for this little guy? He's wearing traditional Japanese hakama pants, and uses fried potato sticks as a sword. Also he seems to have gotten into some kind of mishap with a bowl of ramen, as it's ended up on his head. 
If you were only to encounter these three characters, you might get the impression that there are wonderful characters to be found in every city or prefecture in Japan. But you'd be mistaken. One of the most popular characters nationwide is Funassyi, mascot of Funabashi city in Chiba. Funabashi was lacking the yuru-chara department, which lead its creator to the completely natural conclusion of making their mascot a huge terrifying anthropomorphic pear.

Funassyi merchandise is everywhere, and many people seem to be under the impression that Funassyi is adorable and harmless.

This display in Tokyo just about ruined Christmas day for me.
They seem to be unaware of the many bizarre Funassyi videos around the internet of her dancing alone in public, twitching in a severely agitated manner, and generally being incredibly ominous.

Wikipedia has some more disturbing information about Funassyi:

"Funassyi is the fourth of their 274 children. Its birthday is July 4, and it is 1,876 years old as of 2014. Its full name is Funadius IV (フナディウス4世 Funadiusu Yonsei), and its favorite food is peaches. The character is fond of heavy metal, revealing that it bought Deep Purple's Machine Head as its first album, and is also fond of Aerosmith.

Questionable tastes in music, to be honest.
Generally, Japanese local mascot characters, known as Yuru-chara (ゆるキャラ laid-back character) or gotōchi-chara (ご当地キャラ local character), move slowly and do not speak. Funassyi, however, speaks and sometimes shrieks, jumps, and makes violent movements like headbanging."

Funassyi, briefly realising its own awfulness, tries in vain to self-destruct.
Funassyi's erratic behaviour has captured the hearts of Japan, and it made an estimated ¥200,000,000 in 2013. However, Funassyi is not an official mascot. Despite its popularity, the Funabashi municipal government has refused to approve Funassyi as their official yuru-chara. Apparently some people have not been brainwashed by this giant hypnotic pear, but who knows how long such resistance can last. Prolonged exposure to Funassyi is not to be taken lightly, and I strongly encourage you all to take preventative measures before coming to Japan.

Good luck.

- Annabelle.

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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:


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