He has a big red nose, two rosy cheeks and an edible head that is regularly rebaked in his uncle’s oven.
Yes, it’s Anpanman, one of Japan’s most iconic anime characters, whose heroic antics have seduced generations of children over the past three decades.
Originally unveiled in the form of a 1970s picture-book series by Takashi Yanase, Anpanman was first aired on Japanese TV in 1988, and more than 1,000 episodes have since been unleashed on the public.
Today, at first sight, the cartoon may appear gloriously dated — from its nostalgically catchy music and retro-style characters to the old-school hero-versus-villain storylines.
Yet it remains unwaveringly loved among young children today — its popularity no doubt boosted by a booming Anpanman-merchandise industry offering everything from bento boxes and rucksacks to snacks.
My 2-year-old daughter (and every single friend the same age) is utterly obsessed with Anpanman — to such an extent that my husband and I sometimes wonder whether our child is being subliminally brainwashed by her round-faced hero.
And so it was perhaps inevitable that one sunny Saturday we would find ourselves boarding a train to Yokohama, home to a mecca for the cartoon’s numerous devotees — aka the Anpanman Children’s Museum.
I was aware that the museum had received mixed reviews in the past, with some critics claiming that they felt that the space was disappointingly tired and out of date.
But we thought we’d risk it in any case — such was my confidence in my daughter’s obsession that I could not imagine her disliking anything related to the baked, bean-paste-filled hero.
The museum is housed in a small shopping mall devoted to all things Anpanman-related. Upon entering, we’re immediately overwhelmed by the sensory overload of rows of Anpanman-merchandise-filled shops and crowds of sugar-high children.
My 2-year-old is wide-eyed and a little confused as we make our way to the museum where we buy our tickets and deposit the baby buggy, but she immediately perks up when she is handed a plastic maraca-like Anpanman toy to hang around her neck.
The museum spans three floors and we are first guided into an Anpanman-themed elevator before alighting at the top floor where the experience begins.
My daughter’s face lights up as we see a panoramic row of stationary figures depicting the colorful cast of the cartoon series and she happily shouts out the names of her favorites.
We then make our way around two floors of interactive displays, where children can run around freely exploring various recreated scenarios from the hit series — from the bakery where Anpanman’s head is baked to sushi stores and characters’ homes.
There is also a crafts corner, where children can sit at low tables and use glue, glitter and sticky tape to make goodies such as paper fans — one of which my daughter proudly created (with some help from her parents).
Like the cartoon, the space definitely has a retro feel, with its stationary model characters, simple technology and slightly faded decor. It’s the antithesis of the usual whizzy flashiness normally associated with entertainment for 21st-century children.
But this straightforward, old-school style is perhaps part of its charm for little ones, making it the perfect space for younger children to explore (2 years is perhaps the optimum age, I’d hesitate to take much older children there).
Back on the first floor, a wilder atmosphere prevails, with shrieking crowds of children rushing around the playground-style entertainment, which includes a large slide and bouncing ball toys.
A show also takes place in an auditorium, packed to the rafters, complete with life-sized characters singing and dancing on stage — a visually hectic spectacle that first caused my daughter to shriek in horror, although she was soon enthralled as she watched while sitting on her father’s shoulders.
The Anpanman experience was concluded with a trip to a themed on-site restaurant, complete with as many images of Anpanman as possible (from the tableware to the decor), where my daughter happily skipped eating anything of nutritional value in favor of Anpanman imprinted pancakes.
Heading back to Tokyo, our daughter loudly sings her favorite Anpanman songs while shaking a newly-purchased Anpanman tin — and it’s clear that the museum may not be state-of-the-art, but as with the cartoon itself, she is resolutely seduced.
Yokohama Anpanman Children’s Museum and Mall is at 4-3-1 Minato Mirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama; 045-227-8855. Entry is ¥1,000 for 1 year olds and over. For more information, visit www.yokohama-anpanman.jp.
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