After the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix this year, the magical mascot of Shiki won the first-place prize. That’s a city just a few stops up the Tobu Tojo line from my beloved Kawagoe, and it has gotten a lot of people talking about Saitama prefecture, mainly, how it has a reputation of being lame, full of bumpkins, and generally the butt of many jokes. But is it so? How did this come to pass? I spent the last week investigating, and here’s what I’ve discovered.
2018 Yuru-kyara Grand Prix
The winner of the annual mascot competition, which sees fans from around Japan voting for their favorite mascots, was Kaparu, the mascot of Shiki city. Kaparu is based on the Japanese mythological monster, the Kappa, which is an aquatic trickster known for causing mischief and sometimes eating human flesh. It has a divet in its head that holds water, allowing it to come onto land. If it loses water from its head it becomes weakened. They’re usually small and relatively harmless and you can see them in art and iconography all over Japan. Kaparu is just one of the kappa’s many incarnations in pop culture.
Dasai-tama and the Saitama Pose
The phrase “Dasai-tama” is a combination/pun on the prefecture’s name, Saitama. “Dasai” is slang for uncool or lame, and since the Sai part fits perfectly with Saitama, you can see how it would easily fit and tickle the funny bone of language humor. It was coined in 1981 by comedian Tamori and really gained popularity after it aired on his variety show, Tamori’s All Night Nippon. It came from the song “Why Saitama?” (Naze Saitama?) in which Tamori poked fun at the people and customs of Saitama prefecture. The song took off with its catchy melody.
To be fair, Tamori didn’t just single out Saitama, it’s just that this particular joke and song exceeded expectations with popularity. He introduced an entire segment on his show, aptly titled “Country Criticism and Non-Lyrics,” where he also poked fun at Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures.
The Saitama Pose came back in 2015 as a way to combat this negative image of Saitama being this void of culture and all things interesting. The prefecture promoted the pose, which consists of crossing your arms and making the “OK” sign with both hands. Not the most original, but it has had an oddly enduring legacy, albeit relatively short.
A Defense of Saitama
Saitama is definitely more countryside than its more metropolitan neighbor, Tokyo. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do, especially for visitors. We’ve found a treasure trove of wonderful things to do with all the nature and specialties out here in Saitama.
For starters, nature enthusiasts can find many seasonal flower festivals, such as the Shibazakura in Chichibu and the Spider Lilies in Komahongo. There are also beautiful hikes to be had, such as the one to Gojo Falls.
If you love history, Saitama has a nice amount in a charming package. You can visit the Kurazukuri Zone in Kawagoe, filled with charming shops and one of the only (two) Edo-style Starbucks in the world. There are love temples and beautiful Buddhist sculptures to be seen.
As someone from Florida, I understand poking fun at a region based on news and stereotypes, believe me. Just don’t forget that there can be some real gems out there in the middle of nowhere, so don’t let that stop you from exploring to your heart’s content!