Funassyi character lends support, product license to Tohoku recovery groups

by

Staff Writer

The pear-like character Funassyi may seem at first glance to be from another world, but the unofficial mascot of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, is starting to make a real difference in this one.

The yurukyara character, notable as much for its excess of energy as for the mystery surrounding its creator, has privately donated part of the proceeds from its activities to people who suffered from the devastating March 11 disasters, which mark their fifth anniversary Friday.

Minamisanriku Mishin Kobo, a craft studio in the Miyagi Prefecture town of Minamisanriku, was founded in fall 2011 to give local women a chance to earn money with their sewing skills. The studio is just one of the organizations receiving help from the popular mascot.

Upon a request in May 2013 by the production firm handling the character’s official items, the studio began producing an official Funassyi stuffed toy, the first of what is now a slew of products, according to Mishin Kobo representative director Yasutoshi Kumagai.

“I heard (Funassyi) wanted to produce such products in disaster-hit areas” as part of reconstruction support, Kumagai told The Japan Times on Tuesday.

He said workers at the studio really appreciated the offer, as they did not have regularly contracted sewing work at that time.

Kumagai said the studio had delivered around 2,000 stuffed toys to the production firm by fall 2014, when the latter disbanded. Subsequently, the studio itself was granted the production license, and sales of the 23-cm-tall product, which had been temporarily discontinued, resumed Monday through the Mishin Kobo website.

The toys, which are made by 15 women working at the studio, sold out immediately. Those who still want to purchase it must now wait until June, according to Kumagai.

“We definitely wanted to produce and sell the toy by ourselves, as it represents a meeting of the spirit of reconstruction and that of Funassyi,” he stressed. “Moreover, there are many passionate Funassyi fans who said they wanted to buy the product, as it remains the first official stuffed toy.”

Priced at ¥2,400 excluding tax, part of the toy’s proceeds have also gone to a community welfare workshop that creates packaging for the toy, Kumagai said.

Five percent of the sales are donated to the Michinoku Future Fund based in Sendai, which provides scholarships to students who lost their parents in the March 11 disasters.

In the meantime, holders of a credit card featuring Funassyi can donate simply by shopping with the card.

The Viaso credit card, which is emblazoned with the character and issued by Mitsubishi UFJ Nicos Co., enables the holder to donate 0.1 percent of any payment to the Michinoku Future Fund.

An official of the Michinoku Future Fund said the organization is very appreciative of the popular mascot’s help.

“I have heard that (Funassyi) has an underlying philosophy of encouraging highly motivated youth,” said Takashi Sueda, the fund’s executive director.

The character’s involvement, and that of its masked inventor, in the fund has also caused a ripple effect whereby it has received donations from people simply because they are fans of the mascot, he said.