Supposedly it’s a bad idea to judge a book by its cover. With this particular volume, however, doing just that is highly recommended. This is because the rich and colorful design on the outside is the perfect introduction to the varied and detailed tour of the fuzzy, furry, odd and wonderful Japanese mascots within. “Fuzz & Fur” is the second book about Japanese pop-culture icons by English brothers Edward and John Harrison. Their first book, “Idle Idol”, was a photographic guide to the inanimate figures which attract and greet customers outside Japanese shops and restaurants. “Fuzz & Fur” takes that premise and logically expands upon it by using pictures and detailed text to introduce the reader to a huge variety of animated, three-dimensional Japanese characters, basically guys in costumes playing fictional or mythological figures.
Here in the United States, at least, when you think of a person in a character costume, you typically think of a sports mascot, something like the Philly Phanatic or the San Francisco 49ers mascot Sourdough Sam. Or you see giant mice and anthropomorphic dogs, rabbits and ducks at amusement parks created by entertainment companies such as Disney and Warner Brothers. But that’s about it. However, in Japan fuzzy, furry costumed characters are far more ubiquitous, and are created and used for a wider variety of purposes than just promoting sports and entertainment. Japanese mascots are used to promote tourism, consumer products, government programs, and agriculture.
For example, if you find yourself walking down the streets of Sasebo, Japan, it’s possible you’ll see the Sasebo Burger Boy (p. 136) making his merry way along, promoting that city’s famous and numerous hamburger restaurants. The back story, you see, is that because of the prolonged and continuous presence of American sailors and military personnel in Sasebo’s ports, local restaurants started catering to Americans tastes back in the ‘50s by producing and selling hamburgers for fun and, mostly, profit. As a result, Sasebo has become famous all over Japan for the variety and quality of its local burgers, and Sasebo Burger Boy was created to promote tourism for that particular food industry. In Tokyo, there is the dapper, tuxedoed lamb character Hitsuji No Shitsuji-Kun (p. 47), who promotes products and services for Docomo, a large mobile phone company. Then there is Chidejika (also p. 47), a busy-body deer created in 2003 by the Japanese National Association of Commercial Broadcasters to raise awareness and spread the word about the total conversion of all Japanese broadcast TV signals from analog to digital, which was completed on July 24th.
But for this reviewer’s money, the most poignant and unfortunately timely fuzzy character is golden Haba-Tan (p. 112), a very stylized phoenix character representing Hyōgo Prefecture. Haba-Tan was created in 2003 to symbolize the rebirth of the Hyogo area in the years following the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. He has served well since his creation, apparently, by helping to promote disaster prevention, tourism, sports events, and educational activities. Considering the loss of life and property due to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in March of this year, it isn’t a stretch to expect a warm, fuzzy and thoughtful furry mascot emerging soon to promote rebirth, healing, and economic growth in that devastated region.
So when you open this colorful book and start leafing through its pages, you’ll be taken on a wonderful tour of Japan’s fuzzy mascots, and given a brief description of each character’s origin and purpose. The book is organized into sections for Japan’s seven geographical regions. Within each of the seven sections, characters are listed by the city or prefecture from which they originate. One really delightful part of the Harrison Brothers’ text descriptions for most characters is a breakdown of the meaning of a given furry character’s name. Through the short details given on character names, one gets a real sense of the richness of Japanese culture and history, and what an important part these things play in nearly everything the Japanese do and create. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of this very cool, very fun and very charming book.
“Fuzz & Fur” by Edward & John Harrison. Published by Mark Batty Publisher, New York. Hardback, 144 pages, US $16.95. You can find additional information about the authors and the book, including videos and images of mascots not in the book, at http://fuzzandfur.net/