Thursday, January 15, 2009

Prince Pickles & Miss Parsley...

A must-read on Japan's rising militarism and neo-nationalist gimmicks, travestied as kawaii Hello-Kitty-style mascots.

Japan: The Price of Normalcy

In the early 1990s, the Japanese military adopted a cute mascot by the name of Prince Pickles. He’s a little guy with a big head and big eyes who lives in a tranquil country bordering on some pretty dangerous territory. In three action-packed comic books aimed at young people, Prince Pickles overcomes his na├»ve belief that a land at peace needs no army. He enlists in his own country’s forces to defend against the predations of the neighboring Evil Empire. He endures intensive training. He helps with disaster relief. He goes on peacekeeping missions. And of course, after these mini-heroic efforts, Prince Pickles gets the girl, his comrade-in-arms Miss Parsley.

The transformation of Prince Pickles is meant to represent the recent history of Japan writ small. In her groundbreaking new book Uneasy Warriors, Sabine Fruhstuck describes Prince Pickles’s transformation as a coded message from the state to its citizens that “knowledge and appreciation of the military can be or should become a normative element of growing up. “Only a state with a military is normal and mature, and only a man with military experience is a real man.” If a fellow who is only two feet tall and looks like a toadstool with eyes can “grow up” with such aplomb, surely young Japanese men have nothing to worry about, even without access to a Marine Corps boot camp to affirm their masculinity.

Prince Pickles is not the only pop culture gimmick that the Japanese military has used to improve its image in recent years and overcome the deeply engrained pacifist tendencies of the Japanese population. In recruitment posters, professional female models proclaim in English, “Peace People Japan, Come On!” A music festival sponsored by the military brings in 40,000 people for annual performances that include sexy young women from the pop music scene. The overall message is that Japan’s new military is fun, flirtatious, and yet family-oriented – a far cry from the message that the U.S. military projects of strength, determination, and leadership. If the U.S. Army is from Mars, its Japanese counterpart is clearly from Venus. Such are the inescapable influences of Japan’s kawai culture of Hello Kitty and giggling schoolgirls.

Don’t be fooled. The new Japanese military is far from cuddly. (continue reading here)

John Feffer, “Japan: The Price of Normalcy” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 2-3-09, January 10, 2009.

(Images taken from the same source)

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