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Japan’s national obsession with the color pink

by Amy Chavez

If the cherry blossom is Japan’s unofficial national flower, then it should be no surprise that pink is Japan’s de facto favorite color. Yet I still have a hard time with this national obsession with the color pink.

Just as I was easing out of a particularly pink-laden cherry blossom season, the color seemed to start putting on airs by plastering its tint onto traditionally non-pink things, such as soccer goalie uniforms. While I watched the FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier (Japan vs. Australia), my vision was periodically interrupted by my subconscious jumping up and down inside my brain saying, “Wow, look at Eiji Kawashima’s bright pink uniform! Ugh!” I tried not to let it bother me, but still, it was distracting: the hot pink shirt, hot pink shorts and hot pink socks. I dare say that even the ball is afraid to get near someone looking like that.

The J. League Division 1 team, Cerezo Osaka, has their entire team in pink and navy blue Mizuno uniforms. The pink is so dominant, the poor navy doesn’t even get noticed. Why pink? Well, Cerezo means cherry tree in Spanish and the sakura is the flower of the city of Osaka. Ah, now it all makes sense. Sorta.

With breast cancer awareness campaigns using the color pink as their symbol, pink is an even more popular color these days. What the color pink and breasts have to do with one another, I’m not sure. Do women really have pink breasts? Pink nipples? I think not. Yet so interconnected are these two ideas that no one, when drawing a nude picture of a woman, would dare reach for the brown crayon. Pink is sexy. Pink is cute.

But where does one cross the line with pink? Is it salmon-colored arm protectors, coral pink leggings, raspberry Crocs, Hello Kitty kitchen accessories — with sparkles? Hot pink goalie uniforms? In Japan, the line will be crossed, and crossed again. There simply is no limit to pink in Japan.

Yet I was caught off-guard again the other day when I went to get on a Willer overnight express bus from Osaka to Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture. The staff member at the gate directed me to their shuttle bus that would take me to the Willer terminal in Umeda.

“Just get on the pink bus,” she said.

Naively, I thought it would be a bus with a pink stripe down the body, or with a pink drawing on the side of it like the “Salad Express” bus between Osaka and Kansai airport that features animated vegetables on the side of it. Wrong. The entire Willer shuttle bus was pink.

Even more amazing was that the bus was not called something like the “Sakura Express Travel Car” or the “Sakura Relax Space.” Instead, it was just a hunk of metal with rubber wheels, exuding pinkness among black exhaust clouds. Perhaps they were trying to be subtle.

The Willer staff, including the bus drivers, all wear pink uniforms. The bus’s metal sides, and bumpers front and back, are pink. Inside, the ticket machine at the entrance is pink too. Pink is a trustworthy color.

The pink beast lurched forward as the bus driver called, “We’re on our way to Umeda.” A couple minutes later, he called from his hot pink driver’s seat, “We’re taking a right curve, please be careful.” Then, “We’re waiting at an intersection now.” It’s midnight, and there’s no traffic, so perhaps the tour guide in him was coming out. “We’re accelerating now,” he warned, when the light turned green.” Pink is a safe color.

We arrived at the Willer Bus Terminal, which is very new, with comfortable chairs for waiting, computers to use. It was decked out in vending machines and avant-garde ceiling lamps. Pink is a modern color.

The staff inside the terminal spoke excellent English. The announcements were in English. Even some of the Japanese passengers spoke English. If it weren’t for all the pink, you wouldn’t even realize you were in Japan. Pink is a progressive color.

What was the inside of the bus like? I admit that when I boarded the bus, I was taken aback. I saw something I hadn’t seen in 50 years. I was quite sure I had re-entered the womb! And, should there be any doubters out there, I do remember something about my 9-month accommodations.

The inside of the bus was dark with just enough light to see. Each occupant had their own abode featuring a plush pink reclining seat, a blanket, a foot rest and a globe that could be brought over to cover the head for sleeping. Passengers were dozing blissfully, plugged into their iPods as if they were umbilical cords. Pink is a soothing color.

“Please make yourself at home!” cried out the English announcement. Nestled into my comfy sphere, I was gently swayed to sleep by the motion of the bus.

But the wonderful thing about these warm, womb-like conditions (besides the modern iPod enhancements), was that no fetal position was necessary. You could stretch out completely. This got me to thinking that these busses could be the next generation test tube baby units — places where women could leave their babies to grow in larger, more comfortable wombs while allowing mothers to avoid the burden of carrying their babies around in their abdomens to full term.

While we think it is normal for babies to grow in the fetal position in the womb, I bet they’d be more comfortable with a little more freedom. Surely babies would stand up in the womb if they could. But since they are restricted by the size and dimensions of their abode, they never reach their true fetus potential.

Wombs, like their owners, must come in many sizes, such as small, medium and large. And in Japan, extra small. Perhaps more babies would grow into sumo wrestlers given a larger womb. And after nine months of incubating here in a pink bus seat, these Willer babies would have taken on the posture of the seat, so they’d be comfortable traveling by bus in Japan for the rest of their lives.

Pink is a creative color.

  • kyushuphil

    The poets used to use many colors in particular ways for various contexts.

    This was when Japan yet had a culture where poets and artists could see individual subtleties, when wider palettes served wider humanity.

    A few poets still possess this knowledge, these arts. But so few that they now recall the so very few persons of “Fahrenheit 451″ who still read books, walking around the pond committing them to memory as at the end of Francois Truffaut’s film version, and Rad Bradbury’s book original.

    Rather than stress individual arts, or any writing, schools today inflict regimentation and meaningless cramming on all. They serve the herd creation that also dutifully follows modern advertising, marketing all into designated consumer demographics.

    The old poets? The old colors?

  • inqualia

    Pink is also a conservative color, as in all those bright-pink Komeito posters that have recently sprung up declaring 「安定は希望です」(stability is our goal). It’s also a nationalist color, if you think of pink as a mix of red and white (a color scheme that also seems to be everywhere lately). These things aside, though, I kind of enjoy the broader palette.