I let Elise pick today’s Japanese postcard. I figure she needs a little extra attention as she is now officially a social pariah–the chicken pox has struck again! She chose Snoopy! While Snoopy is as American a beagle as they come, he and the rest of the Peanuts gang have found a second home in Japan. (Snoopy is also quiet well-known here in France too!) The country that has given Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and the word “kawaii” to the world has adopted a bit of character cuteness from the other side of the planet.
When you listen to journalists talk about ranking popularity and influence today, they tend to cite Facebook and Twitter statistics. I don’t necessarily disagree with this approach but when judging the popularity of characters, (worldwide) merchandising power seems a more appropriate gauge for me. My friend Evita visited Snoopy Town, the official Peanut’s store, located in Harajuko, Tokyo and sent me this postcard. If you’re looking for Peanuts Power, Evita assures me that this is where to go! Postcards, stuffed animals, slippers, mugs, and all sorts of limited time specials are available to tempt your wallet. I’m not sure I would dare take the girls anywhere nearby for fear of them wanting to buy everything! Not visiting Tokyo? Osaka, Kagoshima and Sapporo all have stores too! All together there are ten official Snoopy stores open in Japan. You can indulge in enough merchandising fun to ruin your monthly budget and then some!
What French characters do you know? Basing my response on merchandising (i.e. what can I easily buy for the girls), Astérix and Obélix, Babar and the Barbapapa all come to my mind. That said, I’m not sure how well-known they are outside of France/Europe. Astérix and Obélix, for example, are household names here–the adventures of the two Gauls and their village during the Roman “occupation” of France make for fun reading. Their comic book adventures are classics (and have been translated into over 100 languages) and have been turned into both cartoon and live-action movies. They even have their own theme park here in France yet I have never come across a single Astérix display or toy in the USA. Babar the King of the Elephants might be losing ground to Elmer but he remains popular. Finally, the Barbapapa look set to remain part of France’s favorite home-grown characters. The Barbapapa family was created in the 1970s in children’s book form. The stories follow the adventures of the Barbapapa family (a blob-like family) as they try to fit into the human world. The books spawned a TV series and yet more merchandising opportunities for its creators. I think they’re also enjoying riding a wave of “nostalgia” trendiness as the children who grew up with them are now (becoming) parents too!
Perhaps the most globally well-known French character, however, is the Little Prince from Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. While not a character in the same sense as the others (the Prince comes from a more literary world), the Prince has made the same jump to merchandising success. The online store sells just about everything you could possibly put the Prince’s name or logo on. In addition you can find Le Petit Prince as a movie, a TV series, and even a musical! Unlike the children’s characters I mentioned above, I know the Little Prince has a worldwide following. A quick search on google also shows the Prince’s popularity with hits showing sculptures and exhibits about the Prince all over and not uniquely in Europe. The Little Prince even has its own museum in Hakone, Japan! Opened in 1999 by Mrs. Akiko Torii, the museum tells the story of both Saint-Exupéry and his most famous character. I’ve never truly understood the appeal of the Little Prince so it’s easy for me to resist the marketing sirens but Snoopy on the other hand….let’s just say we should all be glad that I don’t live near a Snoopy Store! Elise would probably be happy but my wallet wouldn’t! Time to give her some more cream….