Thursday, 30 September 2010
The Face of Arida
Meet Arita-kun, the androgynous, anthropomorphic little (or not so little) orange who runs this town. His likeness greets you around every corner in city hall, whether in his usual gentlemanly pose in the corner of a poster encouraging people to bike to work ("Active Arida!") or mounted atop a tachiuo (cutlass fish) on the polo shirts that are the de-facto uniform of the Arida Board of Education. There's even a child-size statue of him in the lobby:
Between his emaciated mickey-mouse arms, his southern belle headgear, and unceasing smile, Arita-kun did not sit well with my American sensibilities when I first got here. Japan, as many of you already know, is the kingdom of cute. Pokemon, those big-eyed anime heroines, and the preponderance of toy dogs in this country all stem from this seemingly universal love of the child-like, the large-eyed, the soft and fuzzy. The most obvious manifestation in daily life comes from advertising. Some time in the mythic past, an advertising executive decided that the people of the Japanese archipelago would be much more inclined to rent an apartment if it was hawked by, say, a talking ball of green fuzz, or that they would finally start buckling up their seat belts if exhorted by a dog dressed in a cop uniform. Since that day, an entire animated universe has come into being, with mascots for every conceivable product and public service announcement. Even my bank, the largest in Wakayama, found it necessary to replace its logo with a banana-nosed blob apparently drawn by a four year old:
But why shouldn't banks be represented by banana-blob creatures instead of sleek logos and elegant typefaces? I find myself giggling every time I see my banana-bank card disappear into the ATM. A passing joyful moment such as this is surely a good thing in this over-serious world, even if it is ultimately cut short by the realization that I spent way too much money in Osaka last weekend and will be living on eggs and rice until next payday.
Ride that fish, Arita-kun, off into the animated sunset.