[From April Issue 2015]
Heroic characters that come to the aid of the weak and slay evil are well-liked in Japan. Many Japanese grow up watching TV programs about such heroes. Each region has its local mascot and the number of heroic characters, too, is increasing. These are called local heroes.
Local mascots are created to promote local produce or to revitalize their region. However, most local heroes come into being because of the locals’ affection for their region or from their longing for a heroic character. It’s said that as many as 700 heroic characters exist in Japan. They are popular not only with children, but also with grownups.
On Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, “Rito Shentai Tanegashiman” is popular. This team of heroes were created 17 years ago by a local youth club. Speaking the local dialect, rather than fighting like heroes, their role is to inspire the people of Tanegashima. The Tanegashiman team is already renowned not only in Kagoshima but in other prefectures. “I’d like everyone in the country to know about Tanegashima and Tanegashiman,” says KUKIHARA Kiyotaka of the PR department of Tanegashima Action Club.
Tanegashiman get a lot of requests to appear at long-distance relay races and, being well-received by the elderly, at local class reunions for 60-year-olds. To the surprise of the youth club’s members, their villainous enemies, the Jabatche, have also become popular. The Jabatche speak the Tanegashima dialect and make people laugh with jokes about audience members. Their amusing banter with the audience is the talk of the town.
The local hero of Akita Prefecture, too, is also massively popular. Super God Neiger was inspired by the well-known cry of Akita’s local deity Namahage “Warui ko wa ‘ineiger’/inai ka.” (Are there any naughty children here?) His true identity is AKITA Ken., a young man from an ordinary family of farmers. He protects the peace from baddies. When he transforms into Neiger his rallying cry is “Super God Neiger, protector of the sea, the mountains and Akita!”
EBINA Tamotsu, who was instrumental in the creation of Super God Neiger, has loved heroic characters since his childhood. He believes Neiger’s popularity is in the way that the hero embraces the Akita world. A TV program about Neiger was broadcast not only in Akita, but also in Tokyo. “Nothing makes me happier than hearing children cheering,” says Ebina.
Local heroes might utilize regional products as weapons or have a signature pose. TAKAMOTO Shintaro is a fan of local heroes and even travels to distant locations for meet-and-greet events and shows. “I find it particularly interesting that they speak in dialects. It’s also fun to compare regional idiosyncrasies,” he says.
Most heroes fight their enemies in order to keep the peace and protect the environment in their regions. They therefore set a good example to children. Some adults are nostalgic for the heroes they once looked up to. Local heroes will continue to serve locals’ affection for their region.
Text: TSUCHIYA Emi