A Never-Ending Tail
By John McCarthy
This column went away for a few days as I tried to wrap my head around the Japanese fab fad of “hamuketsu.”
Jean Michel Basquiat became famous as a graffiti artist by writing “Plush safe, he think” all over Manhattan in the 1980’s.
Only in the land that spawned green Godzilla could the plush rear ends of hamsters be set up on a pedestal worthy of praise.
Obviously Tokyo’s national culture is a visual one because cartoons in the form of anime serve as virtual porn for the Samurai set.
Considering I live in a country where “Meth,” “sniffing glue,” “raccoon hunting” and “butt implants” are at the top of Google searches on a state-by-state basis, according to Estately – I won’t be quick to judge the Japanese and what constitutes their eye candy.
Times are tough in the United States – money is tight – I started calling it “The Great Depression II: The Sequel” (sequels are always worse than their predecessors) in 2008 only to be drowned out by the national media who called 2008-2013 “The Great Recession” which is considered more PC.
About 62 percent of American households have a dog or a cat as opposed to 25 percent of Japanese households – where interior living space – and cultural differences (pets have to be well cared for in death there) make owning a pet more challenging.
Japanese artist Takashi Murakami coined the term “superflat” to explain his country’s Pop Art preoccupation with the anime arts, so it seems only logical that the latest thing added to their pop culture appreciation would be 2-D pictures of “hamster buttocks.”
“The great thing about hamuketsu is that it is delightfully cute,” Takeshi Takahashi told The Wall Street Journal. “I can’t stop smiling when I see those butts.”
Takahashi’s company Basilico recently published a 96-page book about “Hamuketsu” trying to explain the trend. It was released on March 12 and has already sold 7,000 copies. A like-minded book, “Kawaisa-ni Monzetsu Hamuketsu” or “Hamuketsu-So Cute You Could Faint” was released on April 19 and has sold 30,000 copies so far and is already in reprints.
Sekai Bunka Publishing Inc. spokesperson Yukako Minami says the pictures of hamster butts “sooth the hearts of readers.” The Japanese people say the plush tail pics are “kawaii” or “loveable and cute.”
Which makes me wonder how the Great Depression II is affecting the Japanese – the Great Depression (The Original) did not affect Japan but the great recession hit Tokyo in the second quarter of 2008 like a tsunami.
A friend of mine who was born in middle Europe and raised in Israel and Canada was also a transplanted Californian and a bona fide world traveler when he told me that he considered Japan to be the most civilized place on Earth.
Meanwhile, stateside, Maine googled “Cat pics” more than anything else on the Internet while New Hampshire searched most for “Free Kittens.”
There was no listing for how United States territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands scoured the Internet – the Estately record is a blank slate – which may be a blessing in disguise for those areas so dependent on tourism – although “nudist colonies” flourish in the Caribbean – and “Nudist Colony” was the subject that piqued the interest most of all people living in South Carolina.
Massachusetts was desperately seeking “Canadian men,” Rhode Islanders are interested in “Beer Pong,” Alaskans in “Mail Order Brides” and New Mexicans in “UFOs.” The fifty states represent an Area 51 of unaccountable interests nationwide – but what nobody seemed to notice is how different each state was from the next when it came to what to obsess over.
So what I take from this perfect storm of information age trivia is that all people – all over the world – look to animals, or representations of animals – in order to feel more calm about a cataclysmic world that is out of their control.
About 80 percent of America is wired for the Internet, so this compilation by Estately should represent people who are better off during this dread spectacle of the Zombie Apocalypse, but some of the online queries could have come from Internet Cafes, Starbucks and public libraries nationwide.
According to a popular art book, Richard Gere was given an Andy Warhol painting and had it proudly displayed in his home. One day when Gere learned in part how it was produced and what precious bodily fluids may have been brought to bear on it – he burned it in his fireplace in a fit of rage and disgust.
I think when the Officer and Gentleman finds out about this latest rodent craze in Japan he is likely to have more terms of endearment for it than not.
© 2014 John Francis McCarthy/Secret Goldfish Publishing House, LLC
John McCarthy is an investigative reporter, artist and photojournalist based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Please send questions and comments to: [email protected]