Tohoku Zunko Shop: Supporting Tohoku With Moe
Otaku Culture Responds
In the immediate aftermath of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear accident that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, countless charities and social businesses have been started with the intention of supporting Tohoku’s long road to recovery through new and innovative ways. While visiting the recently opened Asagaya Anime Street in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, I came across one such business: Game Life Output.
I found myself looking around the small yet interesting store when a friendly female shopkeeper named Maria Matsumoto beckoned me to come inside. Matsumoto explained that the idea behind the store is to sell products from Tohoku that are marketed towards people who like anime. The products on display ranged from keychains, t-shirts, and stationery to rice and various foodstuffs made in Tohoku. The products all bear the likeness of a cute, anime-themed mascot character, Tohoku Zunko (product gallery below).
Anime at AkihabaraNews
The character was originally created by an illustrator named Ninico Edomura to help support the Tohoku region in the aftermath of 3/11. Zunko’s demeanor and clothing are inspired by the Tohoku speciality food “zunda mochi,” a type of mochi made with sweetened green soybean paste.
Eventually, Zunko developed such a strong cult following that a Voiceroid (software that reads inputted Japanese text out loud) software package featuring her likeness was created, with a Vocaloid (vocal software series made famous by Hatsune Miku) version slated to come out later this year.
According to Zunko’s homepage at zunko.jp (Japanese/日本語), businesses located in Tohoku (Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures) that would like to use Zunko can do so without having to ask permission and without having to pay any licensing fees.
Side by Side with Tohoku Industry
The store also has a number of unique cardboard items such as cardboard insects, cardboard dinosaurs, and even cardboard chairs that are surprisingly sturdy! These items were all made using cardboard from a factory in Ishinomaki, a town in Miyagi Prefecture that was among the hardest-hit areas by the tsunami.
Matsumoto also told me that the store would soon be coming out with a cardboard furniture catalogue. The price of one of the cardboard chairs will likely be around 7,000-8,000 yen (~$70-$80).
If you are looking for unique gift ideas or would like to help support businesses in Tohoku (or both), I highly recommend stopping by Game Life Output!
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Contributor Reece Scott holds a B.A. in Japanese from Georgetown University, a Master’s in Modern Japanese Studies from the University of Oxford, and is currently a graduate student in Digital Hollywood University’s Digital Contents Management program here in Tokyo. He is passionate about otaku culture and trends.
Photos & Images: Reece Scott; Tohoku Zunko
Map to Game Life Output and more info (Japanese/日本語)