Towards Japan: inspiration from Anpan Man and “The child who eats Santa Claus”


Santa (Photo courtesy of Damian Flanagan)

By Damian Flanagan

Recently my 9 year old daughter mentioned in the kitchen that as homework she was asked to tell an original Christmas story. My 13 year old son suggested, “What about a kid who meets Santa Claus? ”

“Good idea!” I intervened from a nearby table, while looking up from some account books. It wasn’t until then that I realized I had misheard the suggestion – I thought my son had said “a child who eats Santa Claus” and I was quite disappointed that he has something less absurd in mind.

On first listen, you might think the idea of ​​a Santa Claus laughing a little weirdly, but stick with me, I think this might be the ultimate missing ingredient in the Christmas story.

I would like to prove that if we could just make Santa himself edible, the only thing missing in the Christmas spirit would be complete. I have long been fascinated by the debate that took place during World War I in Australia between Norman Lindsay and his friend Bertram Stevens. Lindsay was an eccentric character – an original thinker and a prolific artist and writer, especially known for his paintings of ladies in erotic poses.

Norman Lindsay

Lindsay’s art can be questionable at times, but when it comes to understanding the minds of children, Lindsay has shown supreme insight. While Lindsay’s friend Bertram Stevens argued that fairies were the thing that most captured a child’s imagination, Lindsay countered that no, in fact, it was the food that consumed most of it. in the best interests of a child. “Infantile concepts of happiness are based on the belly,” Lindsay said.

I know when I was a toddler the idea of ​​escaping to a land where donuts grew trees, fudge could be plucked from bushes and the river flowed with chocolate was just as powerful for me. interest that any country filled with dragons and knights. It is no coincidence that Roald Dahl’s most famous story concerns a vast and mysterious chocolate factory.

Lindsay himself attempted to prove his point by writing “The Magic Pudding” – where the hero is a walking, talking dish in which the characters take spoonfuls that are magically replenished. The story has become Australia’s defining and most iconic childhood story.

But it’s not just in Australia that the ability to eat the hero is key to gaining childish appreciation. In Japan, the hero of the most popular children’s story series is after all a character called “Anpan Man”, created by animator Takashi Yanase in 1973.

Takashi Yanase with his characters Anpanman, right, and Baikinman. (Mainichi)

As everyone in Japan knows, “Anpan” is a “Sweet Bean Paste Bun,” a popular treat for kids, and the main character is a walking, talking bun. In his very first story, he visited a starving boy and offered to be eaten. Over time, the stories have evolved to include a host of other regular characters who are also edible, with names like Curry Bun Man or White Bread, who act as foils or sidekicks much to Anpan’s delight. Man “. The big bad guy is “Baikin Man”, literally “Bacteria Man”, assisted by his dastardly “Mold Men”.

Now you can visit entire museums in Japan dedicated to “Anpan Man”, the books have sold over 80 million copies and have been turned into all kinds of manga, anime and movies. Anpan Man was marketed to the nth degree and generated total sales of $ 45 billion. Survivors of the 2011 tsunami in Japan noted that the most heartwarming music they heard in the wake of the devastation was the familiar musical theme “Anpan Man,” loved from childhood.

Maybe if Santa could reveal that his round belly was actually Christmas cake and encourage kids around the world to come in and have a slice every time they met him, we could achieve a final fusion. of fantasy and limitless food desires that define childhood.

In my Christmas of the future, we will not leave little pies to Santa Claus when he comes down from the fireplace, we will wait with our spoons and forks to swallow him as soon as he appears.


(This is part 42 of a series)

In this column, Damian Flanagan, researcher in Japanese literature, wonders about Japanese culture during his trips back and forth between Japan and Great Britain.


Damian Flanagan is an author and critic born in Great Britain in 1969. He studied in Tokyo and Kyoto between 1989 and 1990 while a student at the University of Cambridge. He was engaged in research activities at Kobe University from 1993 to 1999. After completing master’s and doctoral courses in Japanese literature, he obtained a doctorate. in 2000. He is now based in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture and Manchester. He is the author of “Natsume Soseki: Superstar of World Literature” (Sekai Bungaku no superstar Natsume Soseki).


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