How did it came to be?
When young, overworked, single office ladies dream of relaxation, what do they imagine? We observed that some of the favourite attributes that come to mind accompanying their stressed baby Shar-Pei foreheads are often – fluffiness, simplicity, and perhaps flat-out-cuteness! Imagine 3 japanese high school girls (kogal コギャル) simultaneously screaming kawaii~!! There you have it, that is an apt visualisation on the successfulness of a peacable and lovable character we are focusing on today.
Etymology of the brown bear.
The name says it all..
First things first- the name Rilakkuma is a compound (or portmontaue) of the words “relax” (rilakkusu), and the Japanese word for bear, “kuma”. As wordplay is one of the favourite Japanese past time and a comedic arsenal they often revert to, the relaxed – ri-rak-ku-(su)-ma is born, the super relaxed bear is hence born! His first appearance was actually in a series of picture books called Rilakkuma Seikatsu リラックマ生活 (either the life of Rilakkuma or The day to day of Rilakkuma). Nowadays you will find Rilakkuma everywhere in Japan. There are various shops all across Japan, especially Tokyo, with a dedicated section for Rilakkuma plushies
The plot is to keep it simple.
Like all great manga characters (actually I am only thinking of Doraemon, but I am sure there are others! If you do know, please comment!), Rilakkuma appeared out of nowhere in the apartment of office lady Kaoru. Obviously the convenience factor of something like this happening is very appealing, especially if you aren’t allowed to say, keep a pet in the building you live in, which is often the case in Japanese apartment housing. The creator of Rilakkuma originally wanted to have a pet dog, and this desire for companionship inspired her to create Rilakkuma. So, if you do not have the privilege of a purring cat lying on your tummy after a long day of work, what would be more tempting than a brown bear that just oozes laziness and at the same time, displaying anthropomorphic traits that you can lovingly interact with?
What does Rilakkuma like?
Our little brown cub shares many traits with your “average” Japanese and therefore relatable. Ask any Japanese, who doesn’t like dangos (traditional Japanese sweet), omurice (omelette rice) or purin? One of his favourite pasttime includes soaking in the onsen (hot spring)! He shares a roof with fellow San-X characters Korilakkuma and Kiiroitori. If you are interested in more information about the two, leave a comment, we might feature them next time!
How does the Japanese capture your attention?
The appeal of Rilakkuma has proven the importance of creating a domain for escapism. Just like Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma falls under the iyashikei (癒し系) trope, a term applied for manga or anime characters that posess a healing characteristic. In such a parallel world, characters rarely have conflicts, and the tone emphasizes, like many Japanese way of appreciation, on nature and the little things in life. The smell of black coffee in a white ceramic cup, raindrops falling against the windowpane – potsu potsu ぽつぽつ, you get the idea.
This type of escapism is in tune with many different tropes that can be found in Japanese literature, from haiku, to other appreciations of finer arts, like creating a Japanese garden. Combined with cuteness, or kawaii かわいい, a phenomenon that started in the 70s and that today has managed to propell Shinzo Abe to appear as Mario in the Rio olympics closing ceremonies (Imagine Putin dressed up as Cheburashka…?), the Japanese do not shy away from their fondness of simple and cute characters that solely exist to create an atmosphere that the consumer themselves can plunge into. If you ask us, its like playing string with your pet cat, or walking your dog. And we all wish to see things through their eyes.
The quirks of Japanese characters.
San-X vs Sanrio!
Last year Rilakkuma was polled at number 16 just behind Arale-Chan of Akira Toriyama though 10 years ago it was polled at number 5. In recent years, Hello Kitty has churned more revenue (more than 30%) from overseas than in the island country itself. It has also been noticed that Hello Kitty has been using more and more dark colour in order to appeal to the western market. Black LV Hello Kitty anyone? ca ching!
So who consumes Rilakkuma?
In Japan, even if you have not bought anything connected to Rilakkuma or display any interest in the character, you more or less have heard of it. My good friend Kota for example, a real serious type of person who prefers the Western gaming scene, told me that Rilakkuma is cute and positive. His girlfriend prefers Korilakkuma because she is cuter (but in the stories she is actually more mischiveous). But both confess to have never given any money to San-X. But yes they are everywhere and known by most, from the bedroom to your handbag and on school desks.
Rilakkuma, like many other Japanese animation imports, is also hugely popular overseas, especially in other Asian countries. For example in Singapore, kawaii has long since played an important role for teenagers and young adults alike. Stores selling stationeries or other homeware items are not difficult to find.
Last year, a cafe which has received official licensing in Taipei, began operating under a Rilakkuma theme.
In the western world, social media helps propel Rilakkuma into an object of desire, much like original Sanrio items or yeezy limited edition sneakers. On youtube, you can find videos like the following kawaii girl introducing her hauls in a kawaii voice in an indistinctive accent..
No matter what your your inclinations, your heart will surely tingle slightly watching the following animation. Also check the end of the page for some links!
Did yourheart quiver? Are you convinced of your love for Rilakkuma? The logical step is to find out which character you are!
Thanks for reading and do visit our site for more articles of cute characters and cute articles for cats and their human slaves!