A Tottori mascot that was ditched by the city three days after its July debut due to its depressing appearance has made a surprising — if somewhat controversial — comeback.
The city of Tottori unveiled a female character called Katsue-san as a tool to promote itself. The character appeared on the city’s official website on July 7 but was canceled by the board of education on July 10 following a public outcry.
However, Katsue-san has been revived in recent issues of “Big Comic,” the semimonthly manga magazine published by Shogakukan Inc.
The character — a teenage girl with a pained look who is dressed in patched clothes and holding a frog in one hand — was inspired by a real-life tragedy that took place at Tottori Castle in the 16th century.
“When the city of Tottori introduced Katsue-san, I thought it was a good chance for young people to learn more about Tottori’s history,” said cartoonist Hiroshi Kurogane, the author of two of the serialized manga stories.
Installments that depict Katsue-san were published in the Aug. 25 and Sept. 10 issues. One is accompanied by a comment by Kurogane that reads: “I give you my support.”
“As an artist I felt obliged to use such a rare and interesting character to tell what really happened (historically),” Kurogane told The Japan Times.
“I just felt sorry for her, as it was probably the first such character with a profound significance,” he said, underlining the mascot’s historical link.
“Teaching history is the primary role of a regional character,” he stressed, adding that “amid the recent boom in history learning among young Japanese, many young locals may not even know the history of their own region.”
Katsue-san was named after a historical event known as “katsue-goroshi” (killing by starvation) in Tottori. Back in the 16th century, many people died from the starvation tactics used by warlord Hashiba Hideyoshi, who later changed his name to Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
The Katsue-san mascot is styled after one of the peasants outside the castle who was driven inside by Hideyoshi, who was sent by powerful warlord Oda Nobunaga to take over Tottori Castle by forcing his opponents to use up their supplies more quickly.
But the city’s plan to use the character to teach people about regional history fizzled in July after residents protested that the character looks too “bizarre” to be a mascot and makes the city look like it is “making fun of hunger.”
The turn of events involving the character upset well-known cartoonist Kurogane so much that he decided to include Katsue-san in his comic strip “Akabee” even though the Tottori Municipal Government explicitly banned secondary use of the character.
The artist expressed his disappointment with cancelation of the character, saying it could have become a star in a different era, had it not been compared with the modern fluffy “yuru-kyara” mascots designed to promote cities and regions across the country.
“I could have become like Funassyi,” the Katsue-san character is depicted as saying in the strip, referring to the pear-shaped unofficial mascot of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. “But I’m not as cheerful as Funassyi.”
In the magazine’s Sept. 10 issue, Kurogane introduced a female character of his own named “Hiiko-chan,” referring to a similar starvation tactic employed by Hideyoshi during the long siege of Miki Castle in what is now the city of Miki, Hyogo Prefecture.
Kurogane expressed skepticism toward the nationwide craze with cuddly mascots and said society is too preoccupied with appearance and formalities.
Tottori municipal officials said they have yet to decide whether to take any steps against the apparent copyright infringement.
Shunsuke Morishita, manager at the Tottori Municipal Government’s cultural property division, said “We will think about taking steps” if the publisher continues to run other stories.
Morishita hinted that Big Comic’s move to revive the character could end up boosting the city’s profile. But he also expressed concern that using the character could hurt its image.
Kurogane said he does not plan to use Katsue-san again, noting that the two stories were published with the consent of the mascot’s original author, who is reportedly a 40-year-old Tottori resident.
“The character itself was ditched,” Kurogane said. “So what is the point of talking about its copyright?”