Sometimes I just wonder.
Japan is such a small country (geographically speaking, at least), so why do they even have to divide themselves into forty-seven prefectures and compete against each other? Recently I wrote a post on the result of recent survey which basically defined Japan’s most and least attractive places. The battle of yuru-kyara mascots is another means through which we get to know the undiscovered parts of this string of islands. Maybe we are all subconsciously waiting for super heroes who could represent all that Japan has to offer and unite us all together.
And One Piece might just offer the gang of heroes to do it.
Now that the manga series has sold over 300 million copies, One Piece has no doubt proven its worth to be the ultimate representative of all prefectures in Japan. In the 3-Oku [300 million] campaign, forty-seven characters from One Piece appear on ads in local newspapers to represent each prefecture in collaboration with various local specialties, events and tourist destinations across the nation.
Although almost all the featured items in these ads can be seen on the cover of major guidebooks, it’s a new approach that each prefecture is taking to show what they are proud of — whether it be the Tokyo Skytree (above), the hot springs of Gunma, Nebuta Festival of Aomori, Sasakamaboko (fish cake in the shape of a bamboo leaf) of Miyagi — or wara natto (natto wrapped in rice straw) for Ibaraki (below), recently announced the most unappealing prefecture in Japan.
About two-thirds of the ads have been revealed on the website so far, and we have yet to see the remaining works.
In addition to newspaper ads, One Piece posters can be seen on the walls of seven major stations across the country (Sapporo, Sendai, Shibuya, Nagoya, Umeda, Hiroshima and Nishitetsu Fukuoka Tenjin) from November 4th to 26th at intervals of a week or so.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the manga, I do have to admit that One Piece is loved by so many that it has the power to surpass regionalism, which sometimes can get really ugly and messy.
Out of all forty-seven prefectures in Japan, which do you think is the most appealing?
Since 2006, Brand Research Institute has been conducting an annual survey, one of the biggest kinds in Japan, to make a ranking of all the prefectures in Japan based on their attractiveness. Survey participants are asked to answer questions on various factors that help determine how attractive and appealing a place is, such factors being its degree of recognition, its exposure, the impressions you have of it, your willingness to travel or move there, or purchase local specialties.
The top five prefectures come as no surprise. Hokkaido is once again awarded the title of the most appealing prefecture in Japan, the title it has owned since the research started. Kyoto comes in second, followed by Okinawa, Tokyo and Kanagawa. We would probably get the same list of prefectures (though the order might vary a little bit) if we asked the same question anywhere in the world.
In fact, it’s not only the top ranked prefectures that catch our attention. The bottom ones often become a topic for discussion as well. This year, Ibaraki made a “comeback” as the most unappealing prefecture in the country, jumping down from being 46th place last year. Ibaraki in fact had ranked 47th for three years in a row from 2009, which ironically made the prefecture famous as the most likely candidate to get the dishonorable title of the most unattractive prefecture in Japan.
What’s more, its reclaiming of the lowest rung comes only a few months months after Ibaraki launched a big campaign in July this year to promote itself, with the cheerful (or self-deprecating?) choice of Yoshimoto‘s two young comedians, Yuji Ayabe and Naomi Watanabe, both of whom are from Ibaraki.
So what do they do now?
Don’t you (dare) look down on Ibaraki! says their new slogan, though the tone in the original is softened by the heart symbol in the middle. Ayabe and Watanabe are once again facing the desperate need to show what Ibaraki has to offer to the rest of the world, other than being the all-time favorite for a booby prize.
Located in the northern part of Kanto, Ibaraki has yet to prove its worth against its flashy competitors in the region. If Andes Quincy melons, Hitachi Autumn soba and Hitachi beef are not good enough, then how about a visit to Kairakuen Park or Fukuroda Waterfall? Japanese netizens seem to love the underdog spirit shown by this new campaign, and Ibaraki is already creating a big buzz on the web.
So far their new strategy is working just fine, but will they be able to make a jump up next year? Or the real question is, do we want to see them move up in the ranking? Already we are finding ourselves more and more attracted to this prefecture, so who cares if they climb a bit in the rankings?
As with anything, how we look at things means much more to us than the things themselves, don’t you think?
A colleague recently brought back the customary omiyage souvenir from their Obon summer vacation to Miyagi prefecture and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the traditional mochi sweets packaging had been rebranded with Amachan.
Amachan is the “morning TV novel” drama currently being broadcast on NHK, written by Kankuro Kudo and starring Rena Nonen in the title role of a Tokyo schoolgirl prone to making surprised faces, the more so after she moves to Sanriku in Tohoku to become a sea urchin diver (known as ama).
Other than getting everyone repeating its jejeje catch phrase, the estimates are that the series will double tourists to the northern Honshu region — especially hard-hit after the Tohoku disaster in 2011 — and have an economic impact of around 3.3 billion yen (over $30 million) for this year alone! Visitors numbers are right up, as is consumption and manufacturing for Iwate prefecture tourist gifts. The boost expects to create new jobs for almost 500 locals.
It is a little surprising that Amachan has been such a hit, as NHK usually has more success with its evening period dramas. The ultimate example was Ryomaden, which was about Ryoma Sakamoto, the Bakumatsu hero. The immensely popular drama spawned a pantheon of spin-off goods and a major tourism boom to Sakamoto’s home province in Kochi prefecture in Shikoku. Estimates of the financial benefits of “Ryoma Fever” for Kochi go as high as 50 billion yen!
Amachan still has some way to go. Other morning dramas, such as Teppan, generated a knock-on effect for Hiroshima to the tune of 10 billion yen during and after it was broadcast in 2010.
You can argue with me on this, but in Japan, there are two days a year when the idea of being alone might affect you emotionally — these are Valentine’s Day and Christmas (or Christmas Eve, to be exact). These two days have been traditionally hated by singles for one obvious reason. They feel like they are the only loners in the world while everyone else seems to have their significant other. Of course, this is part of the media propaganda and business marketing which forcibly brainwashes us into thinking that being alone is the worst crime ever committed in this country.
Jokes aside, though, if we play with the idea too much, it turns into depression. According to one survey that was conducted back in February, out of 2,459 respondents, 12% said they had eaten their meals in public toilets.
Let’s admit it. Toilets indeed can be our ultimate sanctuary where we can get away from others and expose the most inner, private part of ourselves (figuratively speaking) without worrying about how people might judge us. However, using public toilets as a place to eat is a completely different story.
The question is, why do they have to isolate themselves in toilets to eat meals? One possible answer can be found in years of “school lunch” experience. Of course, a lot of things have changed since when I was in school, but I’m sure that many of the respondents would agree with me on my argument that as kids, we were all taught to act in a group.
The No Child Left Alone act (as if there was such a thing) was apparent in almost any scene at school especially when it came to lunch. While it does make sense to have all kids have lunch at the same time, why did we have to sit in a group? In most cases, groups (or han , as we called them) were formed according to the seating arrangement of a classroom. Maybe it was part of education, trying to make us learn the importance of cooperation with an implied message of when you get older, you will have to get along with ones that you don’t want to get along with or maybe it was the school’s desperate attempt to teach us we could all be good friends if we just gave each other a chance. This short clip shows a typical classroom scene at lunchtime.
Considering that the majority of people in Japan have had years of education which adhered to this virtual act, the survey result can be seen as a sign of our unconscious sense of guilt and shame. Or am I taking this too seriously?
When we look at the other side of the story, though, there seems to be a growing demand for so-called ohitorisama (literally means ‘one person’) service. Club Tourism is offering a variety of package tours for those who want to travel alone. Below you can find their list of “promises” that would make the participants of this tour less conscious about being on their own. The first three are the most appealing: All participants are on their own. You will get a room on your own. You will get to use two seats on a bus. (This means that no one will be sitting next to you!)
Perhaps it’s safe to say that we are double-sided. We seek to be alone sometimes in order to confirm that we are not alone after all.
As Japan’s population continues to decline, we see more and more non-human characters pop out and come to life on a daily basis. The yuru-kyara boom which started less than a decade ago is now gaining momentum and dominating our everyday lives.
Yuru-kyara refers to a character or a mascot representative of a city or a prefecture, whose primary mission is to promote and vitalize its local culture and community. The name yuru-kyara is an abbreviation of two words: yurui which means “loose”, and kyara – character.
They are not meant to be lovable in the obvious way that facilitates money-making like other commercial figures (Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Snoopy etc) or anime characters — at least not when they were first introduced to the scene. This notion obviously is starting to change as we see more and more people see monetary value in the popularity of their promotional mascot characters, which is completely understandable.
For example, the very popular Kumamon mascot, Kumamoto’s yuru-kyara, is estimated to have generated around 640 million yen for the prefecture, and the sales of Kumamon merchandise totaled over 2,500 million yen in 2011.
While many of these characters are now becoming more like commercial figures, here I would like to introduce a lesser-known newbie, a native of Funabashi City, Chiba, and one which is not even approved or supported by the local government. This unofficial mascot called Funassyi is a “pear” fairy (the word for pear in Japanese is nashi) and looks like, well, a yellow pear with a face.
Despite its unofficial status and supposedly low publicity, Funassyi ranked 506th in the 2012 yuru-kyara “grand prix” popularity contest, out of 865 entries, which I guess isn’t too shabby. Now Funassyi is everywhere.
Incidentally, the winner of the 2012 Grand Prix was Barii-san, the simple but huggable character for Imabari in Ehime, and who jumped up from being second place last time. That’s him below.
Perhaps what makes Funassyi quite different from many others is that he is a talking mascot (and he talks a LOT) and appears to be a bit wacky as well. In this clip, his talk starts around 1:00 in (after a spot of dancing). Notice the enthusiastic waves and responses he gets from the crowd.
So why hasn’t Funabashi City adopted him? The answer is rather obvious – because they don’t want to. Instead, they recently announced their own “official” city mascot named Funaemon, who has no resemblance whatsoever to Funassyi.
This is Funaemon below, a more conservative and “human” yuru-kyara than the pear that is Funassyi. But which is the better mascot?
Will this move be enough to kick the unofficial yet one-and-only Funassyi out of the game? It seems like the odds are against the bureaucrats!
The Japan National Tourist Organization reported late last month that estimated numbers of visitors to Japan for November 2012 were 648,600, a 17.6% increase from the same month in 2011 and even up 2.2% on the same month in pre-Fukushima 2010.
A bullish JNTO says this reinforces a trend since June of figures returning to what they were — or even better than they were — before the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku.
Not surprisingly, immediately after the disaster on March 11th, visitors to Japan plunged down over 60% in the wake of the Fukushima panic, and concern over food supplies and transportation.
However, since the start of 2012 the numbers started to crawl back slowly but surely.
Numbers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and India are all at record numbers, helped by the increase in low-cost carriers reducing the price of a fare to Tokyo.
But this isn’t the whole story. The numbers have gone back up but they are still down 6.9% on 2010 levels for Koreans.
The Takeshima dispute and the strength of the yen have also meant that Korean visitors are still staying away.
Likewise, Chinese tourists are woefully down, a decrease of 43.6% from November 2011 and even lower than May, right after the Tohoku catastrophe. I’m sure the people who depend on tourist yen for their income are really grateful to Shintaro Ishihara right now.
Following its rather naff “Cool Japan” campaign of recent years where it tried to harness the overseas popularity of manga and anime and, er, Arashi (yes, quite) to attract international otaku (just what Japan needs more of), the latest brainwave is to promote Tokyo as a fashion capital and bring in “consumer tourists”.
With the undeniably “catchy” slogan of “VISIT JAPAN! VISIT ZOZOTOWN!”, the tourism ministry has teamed up with global online store ZozoTown.com to appeal to girls in their twenties and thirties living in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Browsers will be able to use the special “Japan Hot Brand File” pages inside the ZozoTown portal as a guide to three Japanese brands online and the Tokyo areas (Tokyo Sky Tree surroundings, Shibuya and Omotesando/Harajuku) in which the brand’s bricks-and-mortar stores are based, and all in three languages (Japanese, English and Chinese).
There will also be real world events, such as a pop-up “Visit Japan” promo at shops and cafes in Taipei at the end of this month.
There is only one real question. Will it work? Will this kind of campaign actually encourage young Asian females to visit Tokyo and go shopping (and presumably do some sightseeing as well)?
We think it’s a nice idea but doesn’t go far enough, and the choice of the Sky Tree as one of the “hot” fashion areas is rather forced. Also, why not focus on up-and-coming designers rather than established names? These brands and their stores don’t need a free plug. But there are loads of talented young fashion designers whose creative powers could be harnessed to show the world that there is more to Tokyo than just Asakusa and Shibuya Scramble Crossing.
Still, it could be worse. They could have mentioned bagel heads.