The city of Shima in Mie Prefecture has scrapped its endorsement of a controversial mascot slammed by some locals as overly sexual and demeaning to local ama divers.
The move, announced Thursday, came after the city, slated to host next year’s Group of Seven summit, received about 300 signatures from ama divers and other local residents in August calling for the mascot to be withdrawn.
Sporting a tight top, miniskirt and large breasts, her grin arguably coquettish, the teen mascot — dubbed Aoshima Megu — is a fictional 17-year-old schoolgirl who aspires to become a professional ama.
The character was originally invented to rekindle public interest in the traditional profession and boost tourism, but protesters said her “obscene” appearance misrepresented real-life ama and, as some put it, even amounted to sexism or child pornography.
“It was a very tough decision to make,” Shima Mayor Hidekazu Oguchi told reporters Thursday as he explained the city’s decision to strip the mascot of its official status.
“We couldn’t garner complete support from the ama community,” he said.
After receiving the signatures, officials met with 24 female divers representing all regions in the city and sought feedback at the end of September.
About 70 percent spoke in favor of the character, but others demanded it be dropped as an official mascot, describing it as an affront to their profession, Saho Iwaki, a city official in charge of tourism strategy, told The Japan Times Friday.
After the meeting, the local production company commissioned to design Aoshima Megu also asked the city to revoke its endorsement of the character and the city accepted the proposal, Iwaki said.
Forfeiting an official status does not mean that the character will disappear from public view altogether.
A Facebook page and website dedicated to her promotion, both run by a production company called Mouthbeach, will likely continue, Iwaki said.
In fact, far from being discouraged by the city’s announcement, Mouthbeach designer Yoshihiro Hamaguchi, a former bike racer-turned-event producer, said the company will further beef up efforts to promote the character and embark on fresh projects in collaboration with private businesses in the lead-up to the G-7 summit.
“The only reason I requested the mascot be stripped of an official status was so we could be granted more autonomy to promote her,” Hamaguchi said, denying that the backlash from ama divers prompted the decision.
While the city’s focus is on stimulating its local economy, Hamaguchi said from now on he wanted to publicize Aoshima Megu in a way that will directly help rejuvenate the increasingly unprofitable business of ama divers.
“Ama divers I’ve spoken to told me that the city’s attempt to use their profession as something to attract tourists will only benefit local merchants, but not them,” he said. “I want to do something to boost their business.”
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