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Rebel with a cause

Publication Date : 06-01-2014


Quirky mascot Funasshii unbowed by detractors, vows to keep spreading the Funabashi word


He has a cult following, admires Ozzy Osbourne, is shunned by authorities and has just released a debut single. The year 2013 was a year to remember for Funasshii, the iconic mascot with seemingly endless energy and witty ripostes.

But during an interview with the unauthorised mascot of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, Funasshii showed a more serious, down-to-earth side—and also revealed what makes this zany mascot thrive in an industry dominated by more conventional and reserved characters.

Funasshii claims his real name is Funadius IV, born on July 4, 138, and is aged 1,875. Funasshii maintains he has no gender and arrived on Earth by the order of Nashigami (God of the pear) to help boost the flagging economy and promote pears, which is a local specialty of Funa-bashi.

His popularity soared after appearing in Asahi Soft Drink Co. commercials. He has since received a number of offers to appear in TV programs. In August, Funasshii reached a new high by winning first place in the “2013 general election for local mascots”.

At a press conference to announce the release of his debut CD, Funasshii burst into the room, shouting “Hyahhaaa”, as he often does. Wildly swinging his body, he jumped up and down as if he had powerful springs loaded inside his body. After sitting on a chair, he pounded the table in front of him with both hands several times. He appeared extremely excited.

To my surprise, however, Funasshii spoke very politely once he opened his mouth.

“Thank you for coming here today,” he said.

When we talked face-to-face, Funasshii sounded quite intellectual. He likes Western pop music and is deeply interested in current affairs.

His official theme song, titled “Funa, Funa, Funasshii”,is quite inspirational. The song lyrics go something like: “Even if I’m thrown away and kicked by others, it’s OK because I’ll stand up again.”

Since he “showed up on Earth” in spring 2012, Funasshiii has had his share of hardships. He offered to take part in promotional events in Funabashi, but nobody showed much interest because he was not an “officially approved local mascot”.He ended up recording his own videos in local parks and tourist spots and posted them online.

He continued trying to take part in events organised by the city government or the local chamber of commerce and industry, as well as citizens festivals, but he was always refused. Undeterred, he often showed up at such events uninvited. His indomitable spirit shone through. Just as he sings in his theme song, “It’s OK because I’ll stand up again.”

The song also goes: “You may feel depressed to hear others talking about you, but you should go on without worrying about them.”

Funasshii’s explanation at the press conference helped me understand this part better.

“Living as a human, you may feel stressed or depressed from time to time. I want you to listen to this song when you feel like that, and hopefully it’ll make you think there’ll definitely be something good,” Funasshii said.

Funasshii talking in such a serious tone is a stark contrast to his usual wacky statements and behaviour people are more used to seeing.

Looking back over the past year in which his popularity skyrocketed, he said it rated “hyakuten nasshii” (100 out of 100).

However, as we kept talking, his more serious side began to peek out from within.

“I’ll probably have nothing better than [the CD release],” he said. “I think this is Funasshii’s limit. I’m at my peak now.”

Asked about the possibility of releasing a second single, Funasshii immediately said, “Probably not.” He seems to be quite realistic when it comes to grasping where he stands.

Funasshii set his sights on appearing on the NHK Kouhaku Uta Gassen (Red and white song contest) broadcast on New Year’s Eve as a singer. Alas, this dream went unfulfilled though he appeared on the programme as a guest.

“I wanted to take part, but no offer came from the programme,” he said sadly. “It’s probably because they see a problem with my conduct.”

Yet, Funasshii has other lofty ambitions—and is planning to spend more time on the screen.

“I want to do a job that involves filming in locations overseas. First of all, I want to go to Taiwan,” he said.

Why Taiwan? “It’s overseas, yet it’s still pretty close to Japan, and I want to take a soak in a hot spring,” he said. Funasshii seems to love hot springs.

Perhaps he needs a little rest. I assume he is a bit tired because he puts so much energy into activities to energise others. After he takes a break, I think we’ll see an even more powerful Funasshii. It should be worth the wait.

5 quick questions with the quirky Funasshii.

Q: Who’s your favourite singer?

A: I like Ozzy Osbourne, vocalist of British rock band Black Sabbath.

Q: Who do you consider to be your rival singer?

A: British heavy metal band Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford.

Q: What’s your favourite TV station?

A: Al Jazeera, a satellite TV station based in Qatar. It helps me learn about what is happening in the world and to do futures trading.

Q: Rumour has it that you’re actually from Kanagawa Prefecture.

A: What are you talking about? I have heard one of my family members is from Yokosuka [in Kanagawa Prefecture], but I often walk around the Dobuita-dori shopping street.

Q: How much do you earn a year?

A: My hourly wage of 274 yen or about US$2.60 (read as fu-na-shi in Japanese) multiplied by the number of hours I work. That’s all I earn.


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