Rilakkuma, it’s a time to relax with cute cats!

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.

kogal and rilakkuma

here is a kawaiiiiii visual! note: in this example, the kogal is not wearing the typical uniform of said subculture

this is a mild kogal - important is the short skirt and long socks, often stacking

An example of a mild kogal – important is the short skirt and long socks, often stacking

Etymology of the brown bear.

Many of the more popular characters of San-X Japan are therefore designed with the opposite of wrinkles in mind. For example the company’s first worldwide success Tarepanda, hugely popular by the way when I was growing up, and also another hit character we are introducing today, the Rilakkuma – リラックマ!Also belonging to this cute San-X family are the characters Mamegoma, Sentimental Circus, Chocopa, Kutsushita Nyanko.
The San-X characters! visit our shop for more cute plushies!

The San-X characters! visit our shop for more cute plushies!

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

Rilakkuma picture book. If anything I want this!

Rilakkuma picture book. If anything I want this!

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!

purin, Japanese pudding

purin, Japanese pudding

Korilakkuma and Kiiroitori. Rilakkuma's flatmates.

Korilakkuma and Kiiroitori. Rilakkuma’s flatmates.

rilakkuma is like a snail, small, harmless, but fluffier.

rilakkuma is like a snail, small, harmless, but fluffier.

“kaoru” and rilakkuma. Not a Japanese original but a Taiwanese series. No review here as I have not seen it, but you see the visualisation.

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.

if i looked so cute snoozing..

japanese caption – five more minutes….. that’s me every morning!

Shinzo Abe as Mario, not as loved in his own country but an international sensation (at least on twitter) with this gag.

Shinzo Abe as Mario, not as loved in his own country but an international sensation (at least on twitter) with this gag.

Not something we thought of, the rivalry is real, bring it on hello kitty!

Not something we thought of, the rivalry is real, bring it on hello kitty!

russia's idea of kawaii, the Cheburashka

russia’s idea of kawaii, the Cheburashka

 

The quirks of Japanese characters.

The Japanese are good at creating a whole universe revolving around a character out of nothing. They are often quirky, and so irresistably random that you cannot stop being fascinated about them. For example the fact that Rilakkuma has a zipper on his back with an unknown function illustrates this point perfectly. Plus the fact that it has been speculated that the lower part of his body might just be a getup hiding something questionable sort of adds depth to an otherwise purely kawaii character. As a matter of fact, the zipper on the back, the cute exterior hiding an unknown figure underneath the fluffines and squishiness might just be inspired by Meso メソ, a somewhat cute munchkin character from one of the very first commercially successful Japanese nonsense manga genre, Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoi yo!! Masaru-san. If you have not read it you should.
Here is an introduction to Meso-chan:

San-X vs Sanrio!

The success of Rilakkumma has not only accompanied Japanese office girls (or sarariman) through stressful working days, but has most importantly spun a multi-million business ever since the opening of the first Rilakkuma store in 2008. Not only has San-X managed to threaten the likes of Hello Kitty in recent years it also has injected an element of fun into our new cultural conciousness.
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!
one of Akira Toriyama's legacy, other than Dragonball, Arale-Chan!

one of Akira Toriyama’s legacy, other than Dragonball, Arale-Chan!

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.

does it taste fluffy?

does it taste fluffy?

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!

Useful links:
The quintessential link for cute stuffs
The official FB Page
Official Japanese and English Twitter page
One of many instagram pages

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!