Last October officials in Shima, a city in central Japan, decided what better way to bring attention to their town than a new mascot. Thus Megu Aoshima, a 17-year old “likable” apprentice shellfish diver was born. Too bad with her coy looks and her Marilyn Monroe curves, she wasn’t seen to represent Shima’s traditional ama — the primarily older female divers who have deep-sea searched for abalone and pearls for the past 2,000 years. After backlash from city residents, Shima has decided to scrap the manga mascot.
Here is Megu Aoshima:
And here are some actual ama:
Resistance to the mascot started to stir up this August when more than 100 ama divers demanded that the mascot be revoked.
“Ama in our city are all risking their lives to dive. In the past, some have died,” Isako Utsubo, whose mother is an ama, told Japan Times. “It’s that serious, being an ama. It’s for the honor of those who died that I’m fighting. My mom is angry, too.”
Almost 8,000 people petitioned against the mascot, who was called a sexist image by locals. The illustrated character was mean to rejuvenate Shima’s economy and “spruce up the image of its increasingly aging ama professionals.”
The majority of ama are now in their 50s and 60s; some have continued to dive well into their 70s. Primarily women, ama are free divers who dive as deep as 30 meters and can hold their breath for two-minute intervals. Using skills that have been honed for two millennium, the ama propel themselves to the bottom of the ocean up to 60 times per session. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they began to use wet suits.
While Shima will look for a new mascot before the Group of Seven comes to the city for its annual meeting on international security, energy policy, and global economic governance, the creators of Megu Aoshima are looking to retain the rights to their characters. Mascots are big business in Japan, where more than 1,500 mascots throughout the country represent local districts. The bear Kummanon, a mascot that has 413K followers on Twitter, has brought his district $1.2 billion dollars over two years. But Kummanon isn’t meant to represent a conglomerate of older lady deep-sea divers.
“If you’re in Japan and you throw a rock, you’ll probably hit one,” said John Oliver in his recent bit on mascots on Last Week Tonight. “And you’ll know it when it happens because you’ll probably hear an adorable squeaking sound.”