Pearl Diver Mascot Controversy Continues to Rage

posted on by Eric Stimson
Japanese coastal city split over moe character

We earlier reported on the Japanese coastal city of Shima in Mie Prefecture, which unveiled a new mascot character named Megu Aoshima in November. Shima has an ancient tradition of pearl diving carried out by women called ama who train themselves to dive about 60 feet underwater without breathing equipment, and Aoshima hopes to be one someday. She is a "bright, energetic, and a little clumsy" 17-year-old who weighs 46 kilograms (101 pounds) and is 158 centimeters tall (5'2''). She wants to be a "cute, fashionable pearl diver" but she can't dive deep enough yet. And she's single.

The images singled out for scorn on the petition

In reality, the average pearl diver is 70 years old and look quite different from Aoshima. Black wetsuits are the norm. A pearl diver's husband also points out that she wouldn't be able to dive with her long hair either. "This character's appeal is based on women's sexuality more than pearl diving," he concludes. Isako Utsubo, whose mother is a pearl diver, is outraged by the character and is circulating a petition for the city to withdraw its approval of her. "[She's got] huge boobs with discernable nipples, a hemline that reveals the direction of her vagina, a shameful expression that looks like she'll welcome all kinds of nasty stuff." She considers it a human rights violation, a violation of child pornography laws and disrespectful of pearl divers.

Actual ama

The city commissioned Aoshima as part of a campaign to promote Shima for the G-7 Summit in May 2016. With Utsubo's petition garnering 309 signatures — 97 of them from pearl divers — private railways, supermarkets and fisheries have removed her posters. The city itself has largely stood its ground. "All the city has done is pass out posters at the tourism office that were created by the character designer. We certainly approved her, but the city isn't using this moe character for anything. Of course, not one tax yen has been spent," says the office of municipal tourism strategy.

The character designer, Yoshihiro Hamaguchi, a Mie Prefecture native who runs the design firm Mouth Beach, says he was inspired to take a moe character strategy by his experience in France's 24 Hours of Le Mans motorcycle race, where he raced on a motorcycle with anime character decals to public acclaim. "If Shima promoted itself with a moe pearl diver character, then young people would notice and this subculture would help the town revive," he explains. He is perplexed by the backlash: "There are much more extreme moe characters in Akihabara. Taking the complaints into consideration, we modified the latest posters slightly, but we have no plans to withdraw the character herself." Utsubo dismisses the modifications as "superficial" and says her "distaste for this character hasn't changed."

Aoshima has largely been a success, and has sold LINE stamps online in 49 different countries. According to a twenty-something man in Shima, "it would be impossible to make [a 70-year-old] a character. Their boobs aren't full anymore. To draw a pearl diver cutely, you need this much exhibition."

Shima has had a different pearl diver mascot character, Shimako, for a long time.

[Via Nico Nico News and Yahoo! Japan News; Images from Megu Aoshima official site, Asahi Shimbun Digital and Amachika no Blog]

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