Part II: 10 Anime (Cartoon) Characters You Will Invariably Encounter Traveling in Japan

Thank you for returning for Part II of the series where I try to familiarize you to some faces you will inevitably see while traveling through Japan.  In Part I, I focused on cartoon characters that are probably more recognizable for international audiences.  While some of the final five characters have international recognition, they certainly carry some characteristics that are more quintessentially Japanese.  Here we go...
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6) Doraemon

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A robotic cat that can travel through time and can pull anything basically anything he needs out of his pouch.  (If you're wondering why he has no ears, it's because mice thought they were cheese and ate them while he was asleep.  That's also why Doraemon is deathly afraid of mice).  Doraemon was born in 1969 and quickly earned a place in Japanese households.  The franchise has continued to flourish, and the most recent Doraemon movie helped push the robot cat ahead of Godzilla for the most watched character in Toho movie history.  Needless to say, you will inevitably run into this friendly Japanese icon during your travels.

7) Anpanman

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No superhero captures both the tragedy of war-torn Japan and the hopefulness of the postwar era like Anpanman.  Inspired by memories of starvation while a child trying to survive during World War II, Anpanman's creator Takashi Yanase wanted to create a superhero with a simple but important purpose: end hunger and fight disease.  Anpanman is a superhero whose head is made of Anpan, or bread filled with bean paste.  His fellow heroes include Currypanman (curry bread) and Melonpan girl (Melon bread), and collectively, they fight Baikinman (baikin means germ).  Anpanman has been a hero for Japanese children and adults alike since 1973, and you will come across many museums (like the giant Anpanman Museum in Kochi City pictured below), stores, and merchandise dedicated to this important cultural icon.
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8) Golgo 13 

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Golgo 13 was Japan's response to the James Bond and Napoleon Solo-inspired spy craze in the sixties.  A no-nonsense assassin-for-hire, the writers of Golgo 13 prided themselves on placing the character in situations that reflected the geopolitical issues of the time.  Golgo 13 is the perfect Japanese anti-hero and has remained a fixture since 1968.  In fact, Golgo 13 holds distinction as the longest running Manga series of all time, and you are bound to see Golgo's trademark stoic face, suit, and trenchcoat somewhere along your travels.

9) Kenshiro (Hokuto no Ken--Fist of the North Star)

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Almost an antithesis to the bright and sometimes comical Dragonball which emerged around the same time, Fist of the North Star's hero Kenshiro (who looks a bit like a Japanese Mad Max) exist in a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by a nuclear war.  While Fist of the North Star did not have as broad a fan base as Dragonball, Kenshiro nevertheless became one of the most recognizable characters in Japanese pop culture, and he can still be found in videogames, Pachinko Parlors, train ads, and many other places.

And last but not least...

10) Sazae-san

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Perhaps the single most important cartoon character for the average Japanese household, she may be the least recognizable to most travelers because she looks just like any cartoon depiction of a middle-aged Japanese woman.  But that was always the point with Sazae-san--she and her family are supposed to represent all Japanese families and the comedy comes from the ups-and-downs to which almost anyone in the country could relate.  The Sazae-san comic was born in the immediate aftermath of WWII in 1946, but it was the cartoon that began airing in 1969 that captivated the nation.  Sazae-san is the longest running cartoon series of all time, and you can still watch it on the weekends if you pop on the TV when you're here in Japan.
There you have it: a few of the many interesting characters you'll encounter while traveling through Japan.  There are various goods and souvenirs you can purchase featuring these characters, and they can make good presents and keepsakes as representative of postwar Japanese culture.  Hope you enjoyed learning about some of Japan's most important pop culture icons!
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Mike B