Brain Pickings

Fuzz & Fur: Japan’s Peculiar Subculture of Fur-Suit Mascots

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What ancient Japanese castles have to do with costumed gadget-sellers and the legacy of anime.

It’s no secret I have a soft spot for children’s books, especially ones with a grown-up spin. So I love Fuzz & Fur: Japan’s Costumed Characters — a quirky compendium of Japanese fur-suit mascots by Tokyo-based designer and illustrator duo Edward and John Harrison. The costumes, known as kigurumi in Japan, have been used to promote anything from bridges and castles to water purification plants to the police to, most notably, prefectures.

Illustrator Jun Miura eventually coined a new word, Yuru-kyara, to classify this new breed of characters — from Yuru, which means “loose” or “weak,” and kyara, the word for “character,” to describe the mascots as somewhat imperfect or non-serious, an eerie intersection of the age-old Japanese love of anime and contemporary marketing tactics.

Fuzz & Fur features photographs of over 100 kigurumi, each profiled with text that explains the mascot’s origins, its likes and dislikes, and its unique personality.

Arukuma

A kigurumi into kigurumi, this green bear loves to collect hats. Each one reflects one of Nagano’s many specialities, his collection includes a chestnut, persimmon, mushroom, lettuce, soba and wine. Arukuma, quite possibly the cutest kigurumi is the mascot for East Japan Railway and wants tourists to explore the beautiful outdoors of Nagano. His name combines the words 'aruku' ('walk') and 'kuma' ('bear').

Hikonyan

The mascot for Hikone Castle is probably the most famous yuru-kyara EVER. People travel to the castle not to see the beautiful grounds or explore the castle, but to meet the samurai cat Hikonyan, who visits the castle four times a week. His name combines Hikone and nyan, the Japanese onomatopoeia for a cat’s meow. The cute cat wears a 'kabuto' (samurai helmet) with huge horns similar to the one Ii Naokatsu wore in battle. Ii Naokatsu was a Japanese daimyo during the Edo period who completed the construction of the castle and also said to have escaped being struck by lightning thanks to a beckoning cat.

Ikubee

'Ikubee' is 'lets go' in the dialect of Aomori and the name of The Aomori Destination Campaign’s mascot. The large blue fairy supposedly travelled all over Japan before finally settling down in his favorite prefecture. He’s modelled on the letter ‘A’ which of course stands for Aomori. He’s the colour blue because the first kanji in Aomori means blue and on his head is an apple blossom illustrating the flower symbol of the prefecture.

Sasebo Burger Boy

After WWII the American Navy took over parts of the base in Sasebo, Nagasaki. Soon after, enterprising Sasebo citizens started making and selling burgers to cater to the appetites of the American sailors stationed there. With its long tradition of homemade burgers Sasebo has become famous all over Japan. Takashi Yanase the king of characters famed for creating Anpanman designed the mascot.

Kunio

Even the ski resorts in Japan get in on the kigurumi action. Kunio a seasoned skier is the mascot for Kunizakai Kougen snow park a resort in Takashima, Shiga. Kunio started working in one of the restaurants but was quickly promoted to become the mascot for the resort. His interests include, snowboarding, ice cream and girls (in that order).

Fuzz & Fur comes from — naturally — my friends at Mark Batty Publisher and does for kigurumi what Drainspotting did for Japan’s peculiar culture of storm drain graffiti.

Images and captions by Edward Harrison

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Concord Free Press: Free Their Books and Their Minds Will Follow

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Free press, priceless words, or what Paul Revere has to do with the future of grassroots publishing.

We’ve previously explored tomorrow’s merchants of culture, the literati’s meditations on the future of the written word and, most recently, 7 platforms changing the future of publishing. Today, we turn to the delightful and unusual approach to publishing of the Concord Free Press, whose experiment to “free the books” dares us to interact with books more like we do with stories — as social artifacts given freely, widely shared, and fluidly circulated.

Wielding original fiction by the likes of Scott Phillips, Gregory Maguire, and Wesley Brown, the unorthodox Massachusetts-based project, operating under the motto “free their books and their minds will follow,” is rethinking the goals of publishing as it pushes us to imagine how we can harness the power of stories for purposes beyond the commodification of culture. Founded by writer Stona Fitch, Concord Free Press publishes limited quantities of its first-edition paperbacks and gives them away for free.

CFP’s latest paperback, ­Rut by Scott Phillips, sports a bold cover design and “$0.00″ price tag. (We also couldn’t help but swoon over CFP’s ever-clever logo that silhouettes a reading-and-riding Paul Revere.)

By taking a copy, you agree to give away money to a local charity, someone who needs it, or a stranger on the street. Where the money goes and how much you give –that’s your call. When you’re done, pass this novel on to someone else (for free, of course), so they can give. It adds up.”

In this short code of conduct, the CFP lays out some admirable new goals behind monetizing the written word. It pushes us to engage with our social responsibility and re-circulate our stories to create connected communities, a fine addition to our running list of collaborative consumption tools that empower us to have more by owning less.

And it pays — CFP’s books generate between $45,000 and $50,000 per title in donations, and those are just the donations that people actually report.

To generate more support for its authors and free books, the same folks behind CFP recently launched the Concord EPress, where fans can catch up on electronic versions of any of the “given-out” titles they missed in paperback. Digital editions of previously printed titles are available as a Kindle downloads, with the proceeds of each $7.77 ebook being split two ways between the author and CFP’s free paperback program.

If you’re as blown away by CFP’s mission as we are, you can support the project with a tax-deductible donation.

Cindy Chiang is a thinker, tinkerer and strategist curious about how design and technology can engage with human emotions, cognition and creativity to change the world. When she’s not in wonder or wanderlust, she’s working on growing her creative toolbox. She currently works in Philadelphia and lives on trains, planes and BoltBuses.

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Remembering Louis Armstrong: Satchmo, the Documentary

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Celebrating the life, wizardry and legacy of one of the greatest musicians that ever lived.

Dipper. Satchmo. Pops. The great Louis Armstrong, with his creative cornet and trumpet mastery, his distinctively gravelly voice and his remarkable stage charisma, not only revolutionized the American public’s relationship with jazz, but was also one of the first African-American entertainers equally revered by black and white audiences in a severely racially divided country. He codified the art of jazz improvisation and shaped the course of musical creativity for generations to come, his influence permeating a multitude of genres, eras, styles and subcultures.

To commemorate his legacy, we’re revisiting Satchmo — the terrific 2000 documentary on Armstrong’s life and legacy. Titled after the icon’s nickname, short for Satchelmouth, the film is available on DVD and, with questionable legality, in eight parts on YouTube, gathered here for your convenience — enjoy.

Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” ~ Louis Armstrong

For more on the man and the icon, Terry Teachout’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong is everything one could hope for and then some.

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