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Oochan dollls in Europe

August 17, 2015


Doll mascot for evacuated Fukushima town winning hearts in Europe


Oochan dollls in Europe

By YOSHITAKA ITO/ Staff Writer

Kumamon, the ubiquitous bear mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture, has a Japanese rival--at least in Europe.

The smaller Oochan mascot for Okuma, a town in Fukushima Prefecture, is rising in popularity there because of its connections to the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

In late June, the Oochan dolls went on display at the Museo del Giocattolo, an Italian toy museum in Zagarolo, east of Rome.

All the residents of Okuma evacuated in the wake of the nuclear disaster, and the town's bear mascot has taken on a new significance for the town because it has been turned into a traditional Okiagari-Koboshi doll that is a specialty of the prefecture's Aizu district.

The weighted bottom of the doll helps it return to an upright position after being tipped over, symbolic of the effort by Fukushima residents to get back on their feet following the disaster.

Three Oochan dolls are on display at the Zagarolo museum alongside other Okiagari-Koboshi dolls that were painted by European actors and designers as their way of not forgetting the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The painting project is the brainchild of fashion designer Kenzo Takada, who lives and works out of Paris.

Among the 150 dolls on display at the museum are ones painted by the actors Alain Delon and Jean Reno as well as fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier.

The Oochan dolls have been produced from this year by those who formerly lived in Okuma. The original intent of making the Okiagari-Koboshi dolls based on the Oochan mascot was to present them as a gift of appreciation to those who have helped evacuees from Okuma adjust to their new lives.

Takada heard about the Oochan project and asked Okuma town government officials if they were interested in participating in an exhibition in Rome in March.

"All residents of Okuma are still living as evacuees. I hope that this exhibition will serve to expand the circle of friendship for those supporting Okuma throughout the world," Takada was quoted as saying at the exhibition.

For the opening of the Zagarolo exhibition, an Internet connection was set up linking the Italian museum and the temporary Okuma town government office in Aizu-Wakamatsu.

"I thank all of you for inviting Oochan to your exhibition," said Hideyuki Sakuma, a Okuma town government official. "It is a mascot that represents Okuma, which is striving to stand up once again after the disaster."

The Okuma town government is now considering putting Oochan goods on sale.

"Although we do feel a sense of crisis that the nuclear accident will be forgotten, Oochan will do everything to transmit the accident to the world," Sakuma said.

According to the secretariat that is handling Takada's project, there are plans to hold an exhibition of Oochan dolls in Paris next year.



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