“Anpanman ressha da!” – It’s the Anpanman train!
This exclamation can often be heard near railway lines in Shikoku, as small children gaze in awe when the train emblazoned with their favorite person in the world races by. Anpanman is the animated superhero whose head is made of bean-paste filled bread and who leads a posse of bread-themed do-gooders against the wicked but hapless Baikinman – Bacteria Man. These grotesque but loveable characters are emblazoned on a number of Japan Railway (JR) express trains that run on the railways of Shikoku, home of their creator Takashi Yanase who originated from Kochi.
I must admit to being the unusual foreigner in Japan who isn’t keen on manga and anime. That said, I watched a lot of Anpanman shows while my son was growing up, and they were charming and entertaining. The Japanese typically learn their ethical system from Anpanman, created by an artist who as a solider in WWII watched his fellows descend into cannibalism as they starved. Hungry himself, he experienced fantasies about eating anpan. With a cast of more or less hilarious characters, Anpanman teaches children right from wrong, without them even noticing. They respond with widespread adoration.
The Anpanman train runs on three routes, in Ehime, Kagawa and Kochi. Details are provided (in Japanese) on the JR website devoted to the service (www.jr-eki.com/aptrain/index.html). In Ehime, it runs from Okayama, stopping at Tadotsu in Kagawa, Niihama, Matsuyama, Iyo-Ozu, and terminating in Uwajima. JR runs a number of events and promotions, including selling bread and children’s lunch boxes with Anpanman themes. Some of the trains also have interiors decorated with the characters, who will no doubt be fascinating to small children.
The Anpanman characters appear on a wide variety of merchandize and are highly recognizable. Key chains, mobile phone straps and other knickknacks make good souvenirs to remind you of Japan’s strange obsession with food. My preference would be for something with Baikinman or his ditzy, cute female sidekick, bad-girl Dokin-chan who stole my heart a long time ago.
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