Beneath Japan’s Cuteness

Yesterday Roy posted on Census-kun, the Giant Baby whose cuteness will compel all ethnic Japanese (and from the look of things, quite possibly Daniel Carl) to participate in counting Japan’s declining population, which is expected to peak at 127.74 million in 2006.

Not to be outdone, today I’d like to introduce readers to a valuable online resource that is not without its own brand of cuteness…The Ministry of Finance!

That’s right, The Ministry of Finance.

Seeing Census-kun reminded me of a user-friendly tax brochure the Ministry of Finance put out several years ago. The brochure, called “Let’s Talk About Taxes,” featured a cute claymation-like family of six who explores the wonderful world of government income and expenditure.

Who us? Cute?

Who, us? Cute?

Don’t let the cuteness fool you however. The contents of the brochure are excellent and provide a great introduction and overview to Japan’s current fiscal situation that most people might otherwise shy away from if it weren’t for the cartoon characters. Think of them as sugar coating on a bitter pill, or the lime wedge following a tequila shot.

But worry not dear reader, for the cuteness doesn’t end there. In visiting the MOF site I noticed a curiously cute button just above the one that takes you to the aforementioned tax guide. I clicked on it and the next thing I know I’m in Finance Town!

Go! Go! Finance Town!

In Finance town, visitors join the Finance kids, Noboru, Wataru, and Hikaru along with their two mouse-buddies and a lazy-ass cat called Doranyago, who wears a cape and superhero get up and apparently never pays his taxes. You can go fishing, perform high-flying acrobatics on the trapeze, or play dodge ball. Play the games, learn about the importance of paying taxes, and then go take the Finance Quiz. Perform well and make Doranyago pay his taxes!

Here again, don’t let the cuteness fool you. I actually learned a few things from the quiz. I don’t want to reveal too much for those of you who haven’t taken it yet, but I had no idea that there was 入湯税 in Japan, or that the symbol for a tax office on a map is patterned after the bead on an abacus!

6 thoughts on “Beneath Japan’s Cuteness”

  1. I should point out that the census is not just for ethnic Japanese. One of the big emphases (plural of emphasis?) of this census seems to be getting an accurate count of non-ethnic Japanese citizens and residents.

    Notice that the census web site heavily stresses the fact that census data is completely anonymous, and even illegal immigrants should not fear any backlash from accurately completing the survey.

  2. That’s a good point. If you look at the online data pages, you can see some rather interesting figures on foreign population in Japan, Japanese population abroad, international marriages, etc… Maybe I can get a post on that up later this week.

  3. Hey, that’s false advertising! You didn’t go “beneath” Japan’s cuteness so much as kind of stare into it for a while…

    To put this in perspective, I have to say that a lot of the stuff that passes for “cute” in mainstream America makes me want to vomit.

    First of all, Teletubbies and Blues Clues are so fruity I feel myself growing a vagina after watching it for five minutes.

    And consider all the Rugrats, Ahh! Real Monsters, Doug, Hey Arnold, and all those other ugly-ass cartoon characters that TV forces kids to watch. I can’t imagine how such intentionally grotesque and disgusting visages ever made it onto TV.

    If I recall correctly, the boom started after the success of Ren and Stimpy. I guess it must have been a kind of reaction to the previous generation of Care Bears/Disney afternoon ultra-cutesy innocence cartoons.

    Some of the newer cartoons that have been hits like Invader Zim and the new Puffy cartoon have returned to cuter kind of look, but the damage has been done. Ugly, in-your-face advertisements on TV, radio, and bus stops make you want to punch any random person in the advertising industry these days.

    In general, I hope and pray that this ugly advertising will run its course soon. As the Onion dutifully reports, people have gotten good at ignoring advertising, so marketers are having to think of more creative ways to steer people’s attention toward a product. But don’t they know that they are currying no favor with the general public by broadcasting two godawfully annoying assholes chatting on the radio about mutual funds? Or at least are they losing some sleep over it? Maybe not, the money in advertising is good I hear.

    So in short Japan compares pretty favorably with this unfliching ugliness (though the “annoying” angle in advertising/cartoons has caught on as seen in such crap as the Nova bunny and the anime ‘uchinchi’). Yes, it is weird that Japan’s government is spending money to develop so many indistinguishable “image characters” for every little campaign it runs, complete with theme music (as I have blogged about before).

    They must be thinking a number of things about why these characters work. First, as seen in the election, people like to have a face to attach to a particular issue. That’s why you’ll see advertisements in magazines with random geinoujin or even doing nothing but STAND THERE SMILING FOR NO REASON.

    Also, why make them cutesy? People respond to round, non-threatening objects. Simple as that.

    I am 99.99% sure that there are some publicly available government reports on the use of image characters in campaigns. When I get some more time to waste I’ll do a google search for “イメージキャラクター” in the domain to see what I can find.

  4. It wasn’t false advertising. I posted in a rush, so perhaps I didn’t explain clearly. I guess I was hoping the point would make itself which was laziness on my part. What I was getting at is that beneath Japan’s cutness (or at least the cuteness in these two examples) there is usually some deeper meaning. The “Financial Kids” are essentally a way to instill in the younger generation that it is important to pay one’s taxes. As for the Tax brochure, as I said, I think it makes all those lines and numbers feel less threatening. Or, to rephrase it in your words, “people respond to round, non-threatening objects.”

    Also, while I agree with you that American “cute” is often vomit inducing, I disagree that TV “forces kids to watch” anything. As far as I’m concerned, adults have a great deal of control here. And as much as I hate Madonna’s holier-than-thou rejection of the American pop culture that she so greatly contributed to (cheapening), if you don’t want your kids watching crap, don’t have a TV in your residence.

  5. Sure maybe its not forcing my non-existent kids, but somewhere somehow a kid is being plopped down in front of a TV while Mom goes out clubbing. These entertainment companies need to learn some responsibility in not giving people Ahh Real Monsters-induced neurosis.

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