Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2010
Are we right in thinking you live in Japan at the moment?
Yes, I live in Samezu, Shinagawa. I’ve lived in Japan for almost three years.
What on earth is an “idle idol”?
“Idle Idol” was a phrase my brother and I came up with to describe the unusual and interesting 3D figures we kept spotting all around the world.
How did you find all of the figures featured in your book?
Most of the characters I would stumble across when I was cycling to different parts of Tokyo. I made various trips to cities further afield and when I went on short trips to places like Okinawa.
There seems to be a cute cartoon mascot for just about everything in Japan. What do you think is the root of their appeal?
It’s hard to pinpoint why characters are so important to the Japanese, but some people have speculated on the importance of kanji and their origins in pictorial representations of words. Cute appeals to a large demographic, spanning a broad age range, so it’s a great way to reach a huge amount of customers. Characters help connect the company or institution to its customers and help make businesses more accessible and appealing.
Do you have any personal favorites?
I really like Higuchi-san. This mascot originates from one of Higuchi Pharmacy’s early commercials, where Higuchi Toshio, founder of the business, rides an elephant. I love the fact that the president of the company had the rather arrogant idea that he would make the best character to represent his business.
I can just imagine the design meeting, and the big boss saying, “Yup, I think I should be the mascot for the company,” and all the employees excitedly congratulating him on his great idea.
What’s the most incongruous idol you’ve come across?
The most unusual “Idle Idol” I’ve seen was in Kichijoji, on top of a video and electronics shop. The mascot the shop chose was a blond-haired young man, half naked, looking worryingly excited as he peers through an old-school video camera.
What do you do with yourself when you aren’t off chasing mascots?
I love traveling, which also allows me to get photos of mascots from around the world. But I also enjoy taking pictures of graffiti, road signs, shop signs, drain covers and anything character-related. I’m a designer and illustrator, which probably explains my obsession with characters. I make badges, illustrate, animate and design websites with my brother.
How would you spend a perfect day in Tokyo?
A picnic in a park during spring, playing frisbee with friends and drinking some beer.
For more information on Idle Idol, see http://idleidol.net.