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Hikone City: A Tale of Hikonyan

Written on: Friday April 2nd, 2010

A journal entry from: Shiga Prefecture

Kawaii (cute) mascots tend to be a common image throughout Japan. And Hikone Castle is home to Hikonyan, the Samurai cat. Though I have to be honest that I didn't realize it was a cat until I looked up the spelling of its name a few minutes ago and came across that piece of information. Hum... yes I guess it does look like a cat. And there is a bell around its neck which should have been a clue. When I got to meet him/her (?) in person earlier today I thought that it was a undefined character/animal (like Pokemon). 

A little bit about Hikonyan. Well, it is a samurai complete with matching kabuto (samurai helmet) and various props (sword, sakura branch..etc..). With white fir and a bell yellow bell around its neck. The name Hikonyan comes from combining Hikone and nyan (the Japanese version of meow) to make a cute nickname. And this mascot was adopted to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the castle. 

Anyway, my introduction to Hikonyan was completely by accident. I had noticed the image in a few tourist shop windows but didn't think too much about it. Cute animals and characters are rather common everywhere so I honestly didn't realize that these white and red figure was unique to Hikone. After arriving at the gates of the castle I decided to pop into the Castle museum (free admission) since these small community museums usually have some special historical items on display. Before I knew it staff were guiding me into a large room that had writing (kanji & hiragana mix) and a few times written on a white board. Something that was suppose to start in 20 minutes. First instinct was that this would be a history of the castle. Then I started to realize that the number of children were out numbering the number of adults. Ok. Maybe a kids show? That's alright. Have had it happen before were as a confused foreigner I have wandered into events that are tailored for the younger crowd (see Aso Mountain horse back riding for another example). By the time the show was ready to start more adults had arrived and everyone was excitedly getting out their cameras in anticipation. I on the other hand was even more confused. 

Suddenly a white head with a big red helmet peaked in through one of the side doors and the crowd started cheering. The entire show was Hikonyan trying to get through the door, coming in, dancing, making cute posses, playing with a flag, pretending to fight with a sword...etc.. Despite having been legally an adult for the last 7 years I found myself giggling and as wide-eyed as the 5 year old sitting beside me. Gotta love moments of youth when there are least expected. 

While researching a little more information on Hikonyan I came across the following site (http://altjapan.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/08/hikonyan.html) and they mentioned Hikonyan: The Movie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbtgDKL-vpc). *returns to giggling* Though I noticed that it didn't attempt the stairs inside the castle... more about that later. 

Another interesting thing I noticed but had more to do with the crowd at the show. One of those only in Japan situations that pop up. Back home the announcer would ask people to take pictures and then move to the back of the crowd so others could have the chance to get closer. However, there would always be a handful of people who wouldn't move or be reluctant to. It was so different here. About half-way through the show the announcer came out and asked for the front people to move to the back and as a unified group they did. No hesitation or only moving back a little. None of the children complained (or I didn't notice any raised voices that indicated it) as they followed their parents. It took me a moment to figure what was going on but fortunately the announcer used a hand gesture (rotating both hands around each other) and I figured it out and followed the crowd.  

Anyway, after about 20 minutes I had had my fill of cute and was ready to attempt the stairs up to the castle. 

Update:

I have now found a sequel movie (the beginning is footage from around Hikone but the end is a repeat of the first video). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1V--c9emcbM&NR=1