Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘bizarre’

06 JULY, 2011

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


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 grownup 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.


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').


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' 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.


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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05 JULY, 2011

Spomenik: Eerie Retrofuturistic Monuments of the Eastern Bloc


The ghosts of communism, or what alien architecture has to do with societal memory and Serbia’s mountains.

Having grown up in the former Eastern Bloc, I vividly remember the bizarre and beautiful monuments commissioned by the communist leaders of the 1960s and 70s, which remained as retrofuturistic remnants after the fall of communism, like the undying ghosts of an era most sought to forget but would always remember. These are the subject of Spomenik — a peculiar book by contemporary Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers, who took a laborious trek across former Yugoslavia and The Balkans to photograph the strikingly beautiful yet odd structures tucked away in the region’s mountains. The results are haunting and eerily powerful, evoking a felt sense of a fold in the space-time fabric of sociopolitical reality.

Kempenaers did not set out as a documentary photographer, but first and foremost as an artist seeking to create a new image. An image so powerful that it engulfs the viewer. He allows the viewer to enjoy the melancholy beauty of the Spomeniks, but in so doing, forces us to take a position on a social issue.” ~ Willem Jan Neutelings




Petrova Gora







Ilirska Bistrica


What’s most fascinating about the structures in Spomenik is that, up until the 1980s, they attracted millions of visitors, yet today they stand unknown by the younger generations and neglected by the older, their symbolism a fading flashbulb memory in the collective mind of their host cultures.

via MetaFilter | Images via Crack Two

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20 JUNE, 2011

Sentimental Value: Shopping for Human Stories on eBay


What social psychology has to do with Victorian romance and the official White House gift wrapper.

Since 2007, Emily Spivack has been scouring eBay posts to uncover the remarkable secret stories people share about their things. The project, aptly dubbed Sentimental Value, is as much a fascinating exercise at the intersection of digital and analog anthropology as it is a vicarious journey into the lived and unlived lives of others. Today, I sit down with Emily to chat about the impetus for the project, the most curious stories she’s dug up, and the fundamental psychology of sentimentality.


The mandatory question: What inspired Sentimental Value?

I’ve been working on projects about how clothes function in society for a while, so Sentimental Value came out of that interest. I’ve also been into vintage clothes since I was a teenager, obsessed with their one-of-a-kind-ness. I’m fascinated with the little clues left behind about the garment’s former life — a rip in the knee of a pair of jeans, a handwritten name in a shirt, a lingering smell of perfume.

Victorian travel dress a newly wedded bride intended to wear to meet her husband until he was killed in a horse and buggy accident

I started looking for vintage clothes on eBay and noticed that I’d occasionally find interesting stories people would share about the garments they were selling. I started collecting them, using the site like most people, only instead of hunting down things, hunting down the stories about those things — the provenance of the article of clothing, a story about wearing it, or the reason the seller is giving it up.

I was drawn to the idea of eBay as a place that’s indirectly become a repository for sharing stories and memories. I loved how eBay could offer an unexpected window into strangers’ lives. So, with Sentimental Value, I’ve been working to cull the best stories from what’s been posted.


What are some of the more interesting sentimental treasures you’ve excavated over the course of the project?

It’s hard to pick — there are all sorts of elements that make for a good story — the story itself, the way it’s told, the actual object, the photos… Over the past few years, though, I have seen some specific themes and patterns emerge amongst what I’ve posted.

For example, there are tons of stories about relationships, like this guy who was selling sneakers with air pockets slashed by an ex-girlfriend. There are people who share transformational life experiences, like this woman, who was selling a gown she was once levitated in. At times, I learn something completely new, like the fact that these earrings had been owned by the official gift wrapper for the White House during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. Or there tend to be loads of wedding-related stories, like this one about a drunken bridesmaid mishap.

Sequined gown worn by a woman who believed to have levitated in it.

I appreciate learning about the historical provenance of an item, especially when you get to see a photo of the garment actually worn by the owner, like this dress, which had been worn by Ann Schofield in 1903 when she was presented to the King and Queen of England. Occasionally there’s a celebrity tie-in, like these sunglasses that were touched by Michael Jackson. Or some stories I’m just drawn to purely for the way the story is told, like this handmade Vash the Stampede costume.


There’s a certain notion that digital platforms are completely devoid of the sentimentality we tend to associate with analog objects and keepsakes. Yet Sentimental Value seems to be an experiment in the opposite. What insight has the project given you into the ever more hotly contested question of whether or not technology is making us shallow and dehumanized?

With Sentimental Value, I found affirmation that the attachment I feel towards certain pieces of clothing (that had been, for instance, handed down to me, purchased on a trip, worn on a certain occasion) were echoed in the stories people were openly sharing on eBay.

Earrings worn by the official White House gift wrapper for presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson

I love that this online platform, based on transactions and consumption, has indirectly become a trove of stories, albeit ephemeral ones. I really appreciate eBay as an anonymous marketplace where hundreds of millions of people all over the world are buying and selling goods alongside the rich storytelling by-product that has evolved from it. People are craving an online space to share memories. As a result, they’re finding ways to make digital platforms, like eBay, less sterile or shallow, incorporating personal elements into what might have once been relegated to an offline context.


We tend to think of sentimentality as highly personal, confined to the individual. And yet platforms like eBay, and certainly networks like Facebook and Twitter, are making it highly social. Do you think there’s any ‘sentimental value’ lost in broadcasting these intimate stories to the world? Is there any found?

The reasons we hold onto things (or get rid of them) are usually quite personal. As we continue to feel more comfortable putting more of our lives online, we wind up sharing those stories publicly with less hesitancy.

K-Swiss sneakers worn by Suge Knight, a.k.a. Big Suge, founder of iconic rap label Death Row Records

I think there is significant value to airing those feelings in a public forum. It provides an outlet to more easily document our attachment to the objects in our lives , something that’s often lost generation-to-generation. It allows us to process why we hold such an attachment to certain objects. It turns the sensation into less of a solitary experience and instead, into one that can be more community-driven and interactive.

This may be idealistic, but I like to think that perhaps, with this increasing sense of fondness expressed online and in open spaces, people will become less interested in fast, disposable fashion, feel less inclined to buy the newest, coolest, fanciest ‘thing’ and instead hold onto the object that’s already been imbued with a different kind of value.


What’s next for Sentimental Value?

For about a year, I’ve been buying quite a few of the items with more unique provenances that I’ve posted on Sentimental Value with the intention to put together an exhibition or gallery show. One of my favorites pieces that I now own is a 1920s gown with blood splatter from a mob-related murder. I’ve also collected a rayon blazer owned by a woman who sold her clothes to join a nudist camp, a pair of K-Swiss sneakers that belonged to Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and a Victorian travel dress that a newly wedded bride intended to wear to meet her husband until he was killed in a horse and buggy accident. The garments will be shown alongside their stories.

Rayon blazer owned by a woman who sold all her clothes to join a nudist camp

I’m also working on creating a Sentimental Value book. I’m excited about working in that format as I’ll have the opportunity to organize the stories by common themes, draw connections that are more difficult to make in its current online format, and add perspective by distancing the anecdotes from the proximity of the platform from which they’ve been culled.

Ed.: You can follow the project on Facebook for a delicious feed of found sentimentality.

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16 JUNE, 2011

Arthur Conan Doyle, Psychic: Rare Footage from 1930


What the world’s most analytical detective has to do with exploring the fringes of spiritual life.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may be best-known as the creator of the iconic Sherlock Holmes stories, but in this rare newsreel from 1930, recorded mere weeks before the author passed away, he talks about something unexpected: After telling the story of how Sherlock came to life, Conan Doyle delves into his profound fixation on spiritualism and the psychic world. It’s particularly fascinating to see a man whose literary thought hinged on analytical insight and objectivity explore the nebulous, shape-shifting corners of the human mind.

People ask me, will I write any more Sherlock Holmes stories and I certainly don’t think it’s at all probable. But as I grow older, the psychic subject always grows in intensity and one becomes more earnest upon it, and I should think that my few remaining years will be probably devoted much more in that direction than in the direction of literature. My principal thoughts are that i should extend, if I can, that knowledge, which I have on psychic matters, and spread it as far as I can to those who have been less fortunate.

I don’t for one moment suppose that I’m taking it upon my self to say that I’m the inventor of spiritualism, or that I’m even the principal exponent of it. There are many great mediums, many great psychical researchers, investigators of all sorts — all that I can do is be a gramophone on the subject, to go about, to meet people face to face, to try to make them understand that this thing is not the foolish thing, which is so often represented, but that it really is a great philosophy and, as I think, the basis for all religious improvement in the future of the human race.” ~ Arthur Conan Doyle

via @matthiasrascher

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