一番好きなキャラクターは?

28 Nov

Today I’m going to tell you about Japanese Characters. I don’t mean the ones you write with–I mean “Character” with a capital “c.” To orient yourself, let’s start with Hello Kitty, one of the few characters that has made its way to the United States’ mainstream culture. But although Hello Kitty is still huge in Japan, it’s certainly not alone.

Here’s a look at what characters are “in” in Japan right now.

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(Slideshow contents: Mameshiba, Kapibara-san, Anpan Man, Cubic Mouth Mickey, Hikonyan, Elite Banana, Rirakkuma, Sento-kun, the Snuggle bear, Usavich, Suita city’s mascot)

Now, Japan loves cute. It’s everywhere. So if there’s an event or a city wants to spice up its image, they make a character for it. My school’s city has a character, Nara’s 1300th anniversary has a character, and next time the Olympics are in Japan–oh, you know there’s going to be a character. Of course, you don’t need such a solid reason to make a character, because the consumers are waiting. This isn’t just “Oh, I found a cute doll. Maybe I’ll give it to my niece.” And it’s not “Wow, this wallet is so silly-looking! I’ll buy it and be ironic and cute at the same time.” Folks, this is:

Wallets, stationary supplies, stuffed toys, cell phone chains, cell phone decorations, cell phone cases, bags, keychains, card cases, water bottle covers, book covers, pencil cases, body warmers, hand warmers, kitchen supplies, things that hold your boots up straight when you aren’t wearing them so they don’t wrinkle, videos, books, candies, clocks, trash cans, decorations, headphone holders, tissue box covers, cups, mugs, chopsticks, bentos, toothbrushes, towels, handkerchiefs… and I am most definitely leaving something out.

The point is, character goods make up a huge share of the market for everyday items and accessories. Everywhere you go, you will see people, especially–but not limited to–young people, using character goods. There are plenty of places to get them: capsule machines, home goods stores, stationary stores, and even stores devoted to a single character or character franchise (see slideshow above).

Why are character goods so popular here? As I discussed in my last post, there certainly is a preoccupation with cute. Cute things make you feel better. To some people they are somewhat of a healing: you look at the character, which is cute and simple, it brings you some happiness and a feeling of simplicity, even if your life is messy and stressful. Cuteness requires some kind of dependency–a cute character needs you as its caretaker. And no matter what your age, cute things can bring you back to your childhood, and good memories (natsukashii, or nostalgic, might be the second most common adjective after kawaii, or cute). And in the stressed world of Japan, this is pretty important.

Character goods also fit into the rampant consumerism of this country. People buy stuff. A lot of stuff. I don’t really know how to explain this any further, but consumerism appears to run much deeper here than in the States, and in a different way. Consumerism is a way to fit in in society. For example, everyone who’s cool has these big keychains that look like they cut the tail off an animal, even though they look mildly silly. And tons of people have Usavich dolls hanging from their bags. If you buy these things, it gives you a sense of community with mainstream, even if you feel isolated in other ways. You share a branded connection.

In any case, character goods are great. I really enjoy them, because cute makes me really happy. I wrote this post because I started going on about them to a friend and was met with total confusion. I hope I managed to explain them properly to everyone out there!

——-

Note: My cute analysis draws from a few different articles I’ve read on cuteness–they appear to be agreed-upon in the intellectual community, so I didn’t bother to cite a specific source.

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2 Responses to “一番好きなキャラクターは?”

  1. Lysbet Murray November 28, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    I’ve seen it with my own eyes now–your analysis really seems to hit it on the head, too!

  2. Carole Deily December 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    I guess I love cute and always have. We had this phenomenon occasionally in the US, with Pillsbury Dough Boy, Speedy Alka Seltzer, Joe Camel, Campbell Soup Kids, etc., but the Japanese have taken cute to new heights. We saw a Pokemon store in Paris in 1995!
    I love meeting all the characters you present here.
    Carole

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