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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

The Growing Popularity of Japanese Characterization

[From August Issue 2010]

In Japan, characters (mascots) are often created to help promote products or to help boost tourism. Many of these characters are attractively designed animals and/or vegetables. These characters usually appear at promotional events in kigurumi (full-bodied suits) as well as in souvenir shops as key chains and other accessories. Since kigurumi also appear in kabuki – traditional Japanese plays – most Japanese people are already accustomed to their presence.

“Moe-kyara” characters are also popular. Pretty female and handsome male characters fall into this group, and are most often either anime or manga related. Recently, the personification of things and/or places has grown in popularity.

This past April, Shizuoka Prefecture’s HIGHSPEC CO., LTD. and ARTRA Inc., together requested submissions for a character for “motsu (pork offal) curry.” Motsu curry is a local specialty of Shimizu Ward, Shizuoka City, which is also home to a professional soccer team. So, both HIGHSPEC and ARTRA wanted to create a character that personified being “from Shimizu and loveing soccer.” After holding auditions, the “MOMOTSU Karen” character won and is now part of bag designs and billboard advertisements.

“Karen is a very approachable character. The Alcea rosea (Hollyhock flower), the city flower of Shizuoka City, is subtly designed into both her hair and her skirt. Sales are more than we expected, too,” says MOROHOSHI Masataka, HIGHSPEC’s PR representative. HIGHSPEC was also involved in developing the “Fujitan,” character, personifying Mt. Fuji.

Yurihama Town of Tottori Prefecture created a CD drama wherein they embodied the characteristics of the various, local regions. So the Tomari area, with its harbor, became the fisherman TOMARI Michiru, while the Hawai area, with its hot spring, became the warm hearted HAWAI Francesca-Yuji. Then a story was developed featuring these characters, which were voiced by real actors. A website was also created.

“While the website and the CD drama are in Japanese, we have had enquiries in English from China, Hong Kong and Germany,” says KATO Kiyoko, Yurihama Town’s Tourism Ambassador. “I think the fact that the cast included MIDORIKAWA Hikaru, one of Japan’s most famous voiceover actors, had some effect. Chocolates were sent to the characters on Valentine’s Day and I also saw an e-mail saying that people actually visited the place where the drama took place,” she recalls.

The woman-only creative web content team “Miracle Train Production Project” has turned train stations into handsome male characters. For example, Shinjuku Station, with its many passengers and lively streets at night, was turned into a “gentlemanly and popular character, kind to women,” and Tokyo Station, which is the center of the Japanese railway system, became a “leader, driven strictly by time.” Station characters often inform people about the station itself, such as “Ikebukuro has plenty of stores in its eki-biru (tenant buildings adjacent to the station),” and “Oedo line’s Roppongi Station platform is located 42 meters underground, the deepest subway station in Japan.”

“We aim to introduce the history and information of the train station and railways in a clear and interesting way for women to understand” says PR producer KIDACHI Miyuka. “Currently, our project uses comic strips and novels on the web, and sells CD’s and other goods. TV animation started its broadcast in October 2009, and since then, website visits have multiplied five-fold. Our products also often sell out at manga and anime events.”

Currently, Miracle Train is featuring the Oedo line. And recently, there has been a trend for female fans to contact each other online to meet at, or visit places where a particular scene in an anime movie took place. “For people who live in Tokyo, the Oedo line is a familiar subway line. That is why featuring stations became popular,” says train fan, KATO Mayumi.

“Japanese people believe that spirits dwell in all objects. That is probably why many Japanese people imagine the kinds of thoughts that objects and animals may have. Personification is a fun and healthy way of imagining, one that makes objects appealing to people,” says Kidachi.

There is also practical personification. Studio Hard Deluxe Co., Ltd. published a book that introduced chemical elements as the “Element Girls.” In it, 118 elements such as iron and gold were given illustrated female personalities. Additional information about the elements was also included.

“To create simple and cute characters for serious things – that is our way of business,” says TAKAHASHI Nobuyuki, the company’s president. Takahashi has vast anime and manga knowledge, and was the person who coined the word “cosplay (costume play).” “It is easy for Asians who use kanji characters to personify things. Using letters (i.e. characters with individual meanings) makes personification easy,” he says.

“Chemical elements are recognizable but are confusing and hard to relate to. When they are personified, they become easier to relate to. And furthermore, since they are freshly created, they have their own novelty,” says Takahashi. “The reason why personified characters are so popular is because they are easy to relate to and cute in a new way.”

HIGHSPEC Co.,Ltd.
Lohas Togo (Drama CD)
Miracle Train Project
Studio Hard Deluxe

Text: SAZAKI Ryo


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