Fukuppy

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The whole world knows about Fukushima. Lest its reputation forever be associated with nuclear disaster, ending up as an East Asian Chernobyl, the city wishes to refurbish its image as a dynamic, forward-looking, productive place. To that end, the Fukushima Industries Corporation (a leading manufacturer of commercial freezer refrigerators and showcase freezers) has devised a new mascot:

"Hajimemashite. Fukuppy desu." = "My name is Fukuppy. Nice to meet you."

The website where Fukuppy is introduced has the following fascinating Q & A:

Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born in a Fukushima [i.e., Fukushima Industries, which explains the Roman lettering] refrigerator.
Q: Are you a boy or a girl?
A: I'm still an egg, so I don't know. But I call myself "boku" [implying, perhaps, a sort of jaunty "good, middle-class, urban" boyishness].
Q: What about your personality?
A: I love eating and I'm very curious. I think I'm kind and have a strong sense of justice, but everyone else says I'm a bit of a goofball. But I never forget to polish myself to keep myself shiny!
Q: What's your job? And what kind of special skills do you have?
A: I patrol refrigerators, kitchens, and supermarket display cases with these wings I'm so proud of. I can talk to veggies, fruits, meat, and fish, so I can check on their health. Another important job is produce new things to make the people of the world happy.

The idea of an egg is interesting, though, saisei 再生 ("rebirth") is one of the going talking points on Fukushima. It's been used as a kind of protest against gov't/TEPCO(Tokyo Electric Power Company)-led fukkō 復興 ("reconstruction; revival; renaissance"), which is a functional equivalent of fukkyū 復 旧 ("restoration; rehabilitation; restitution"); there are those who want to go back to the way things were, but many others see this as an opportunity to bring about positive change in the structure of Japanese socioeconomics that have made the Tohoku region (the northeastern portion of Honshu, Japan's largest island, where Fukushima is located) an "internal colony" (kokunai shokuminchi 国内植民地) or "national sacrifice zone."

But what about the construction of Fukuppy's name? The Japanese seem to have picked up the habit of attaching "–pii" ピ イ at the end of practically any word or name to make up a new, lovable, or catchy nickname. There are old, established examples like ochappī おちゃっぴい for playful, noisy, young girls ("chatterbox; saucy / talkative / precocious girl"), which can be found in dictionaries. Almost makes me think of the last part of "puppy"!

Fukuppy's name, of course, is formed by taking Fuku(shima) as the first part, and the Fuku- 福 of Fukushima 福島 means "happiness", "good fortune", etc. to begin with. So Fukuppy is actually a very nice name for a mascot in Japanese.

Thus it would appear that the moniker for Fukushima's new mascot was created by combining the idea of "happiness" with "Fuku(shima)". However, through Google, I came upon a 24 year old girl from Hokkaido, a nursing student, who had seemingly independently named herself Fukuppy, So "Fukuppy" is not only felicitous, it is also fairly obvious for a company logo or prefectural mascot.

There are hundreds of people calling themselves with names having -ppii / -ppy attached at the end. For example, there are "rippy mama", "kerokeorokeoppii", "happii (歯っぴい), "torippy", "furoppii", "rappy", and so forth. In most cases I have no ideas what these names mean.

Oh, by the way, it's not just the Fukushima Industries Corporation that has adopted an egg as its logo. This comes from the Fukushima Prefecture Facebook page:

[Hat tip to Mark and Jeremy Mandel; thanks to Nathan Hopson, Cecilia Segawa Seigle, and Miki Morita]

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32 Comments »

  1. Rubrick said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

    When I first saw this word I automatically pronounced it as "Fuck-uppy" (despite knowing enough Japanese to know better), and figured this post would be about how this was an amusingly apt yet ill-chosen name as seen through western eyes.

  2. Matt said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

    One thing about the oldest example here, ochappī, is that it has a real etymology: ocha.hiki 御茶挽き, which ultimately goes back to an idiom meaning "(as a courtesan or entertainer) to have no customers, be idle." For more modern coinings like fukuppii and happii, the ppii is simple hypocorism in most cases.

  3. Aristotle Pagaltzis said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

    Indeed, Rubrick. Victor, did you really miss the Fuckuppy reading?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

    @Aristotle Pagaltzis

    Of course, not! Why do you think I bolded "in Japanese"?

  5. ferndo said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 9:17 pm

    Without your interpretation, I would just read this as. Fuk. kuh. pee. And this still makes sense with the image of an egg, the product of Fuk.& appy

  6. Eric TF Bat said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

    Nintendo got away with calling their game console The Urination, so I suppose Fukoshima can get away with a mascot named Embarrassing Disaster.

  7. surrogatekey said,

    October 14, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

    I thought it was refreshing that this post didn't focus so much on how the name reads in English, but instead just nodded to that in passing. The local context and details on the name's construction were the most interesting bits to me.

  8. Aristotle Pagaltzis said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 12:21 am

    Ah yes. I did expect you to refer to that reading only obliquely, once I got a few paragraphs in, but that sole hint was so subtle that I debated whether you were implying that by it – or merely commenting on a generic clumsiness. With the rest of the article so straight-faced, I thought you may truly have missed it.

    My apologies for doubting you.

  9. Jason said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 12:36 am

    I was a little surprised that "Fukushima'd up" didn't take off as a modern take on "SNAFU'd". Now this egg has the potential to achieve memeworthy status as the patron mascot of fuckups, much in the way Kumaa metamorphosized into Pedobear in English. Let's hope so, because then we can substitute this real example for all the bogus invocations of the "Chevy Nova" meme in all the undergraduate textbooks on marketing.

  10. Mark Mandel said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 1:28 am

    I had to stop and look at fukkō 復興 and fukkyū 復 旧 for a while, especially the latter – I mean, really! – and compare their kanji to Fukushima 福島 to be sure that no, it really is just a coincidence… isn't it?

    Victor, you slipped on a virtual bananaanna peel: "kerokeorokeoppii" should be Kerokerokeroppi.

  11. Vicky Muehleisen said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 1:37 am

    I saw a poster on the subway in Tokyo introducing the mascot and explaining the name. I didn't take a photo (it was the first time I had seen it and I didn't realize it was going to become an internet sensation), but if I remember correctly, there was something like the following, with upper and lowercase letters and the equation symbols.

    FUKUshima + haPPY = FUKUPPY

    So it seems that they were explicitly linking the "ppy" to "happy".

  12. Mark Mandel said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 1:40 am

    I was with Aristotle Pagaltzis for a bit there when I read this, though unlike him I knew you knew: I was thinking "Did Victor really write this totally straight-faced?"

    Meseems that just bolding "in Japanese" is a bit too subtle. The point would be much clearer if you gave 'em hell… Excuse me – inserted what Unicode calls HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS, with the entity code "&amphellip;":
    "actually a very nice name for a mascot… in Japanese."

  13. Matt said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 2:49 am

    Incidentally, lest there be any confusion, Fukushima Industries is in Osaka; Fukushima is just the founder's surname. As far as I can tell, they don't have anything to do with Fukushima the prefecture/city/disaster.

  14. maidhc said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 4:55 am

    Nuclear power has a new mascot. Good thing too, I was getting a bit tired of Three Mile Island Bambi, Sellafield Noddy and Chernobyl Hattifatteners.

    All hail the flying egg and his appliances!

  15. GeorgeW said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    As with many English speakers, my first reaction was the obvious English blend. Then, when I learned it was Japanese, I immediately thought of Fukushima and wondered why in the world a company would want to call attention to that disaster. I can't imagine a cute, playful derivation of Katrina or 9-11 even if these have perfectly benign literal meanings.

  16. michael turton said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 5:22 am

    this has to be the canonical example of the east asian use of cute to cover and control the ugly, powerful, or necessary. Absolutely brilliant.

    Michael

  17. Victor Mair said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 6:08 am

    @Mark Mandel

    Boy, do I ever have typo EGG on my face with that version of Kerokerokeroppi!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Sanrio_characters#Keroppi

    http://www.sanrio.co.jp/character/keroppi/

    Whatever typographical magic you tried to work on "in Japanese", it seems to have been so subtle that it didn't show up visibly in your comment.

  18. Faldone said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 6:23 am

    Victor. It was the ellipsis, implying a pause in speech.

    "actually a very nice name for a mascot (pause)…(emphasis) in Japanese."

  19. Bill Benzon said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    What's emoticonese for "drumbeat drumbeat rimshot"?

  20. Carl said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 7:35 am

    Fukushima is a common Japanese name. Associating the name of a refrigerator company with the disaster in a nuclear plant with the same name is not unlike a Japanese wondering why so many American road signs seem to reference Three Mile Island.

  21. Duncan said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 7:54 am

    It's hitting the wider news now (tho the linked site is known for its rather liberal political take):

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/10/15/lost-in-translation-japans-fukuppy-firm-rethinks-its-egg-shaped-mascot-after-online-ridicule/

    Meanwhile, my first take on reading the article here was "fuck puppy", even before seeing the "puppy" mention further down. It took seeing the rawstory headline in a different context some hours later for the fuck-up-y meaning to truly sink in, even after reading the full article here, I guess because the original interpretation was so dominant in my head.

    But the other question that occurs to me is what refrigeration company in their right mind would have an egg mascot being "born" in their refrigerator? That calls to mind incubators, NOT refrigerators; in context, perhaps with ATOMIC heating, thus explaining the "mutant egg" as well!

    (OTOH, while I don't speak Spanish, some years ago a co-worker gave me a Spanish language DVD, "Un Pelicula de huevos" — A movie of Eggs. It's an an animation that begins with a farmer gathering an egg and trucking it to market, with the rest of the movie being about the egg's attempt to get back to mama hen. One doesn't need to understand Spanish to follow it as the voice-actors are skilled and the animation entertaining and easy enough to follow. In fact, I think it's actually more fun not really understanding the words, leaving the watcher free to fill in with their imagination, helped by the expressiveness of the voice actors, of course. I'll never see an egg the same again, and that applies DOUBLE to a humanized egg such as this mascot.)

  22. Eric P Smith said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    @Mark Mandel: try …

    I confess I, too, always think of the HTML entity name as hell-ip. May not be good for the soul, but makes it easy to remember.

  23. cb said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

    It seems that the company (which makes refrigeration equipment) is not even connected to the town and prefecture where the nuclear disaster happened. But still they stumbled on something strangely brilliant.

    White wings in the west symbolize death (angel wings). Angel wings are happy death, but still death, and Fukuppy resembles some angel-schmaltz you could find in the west. A dead smiling angel egg is very creepy and ominous. Like the dead children you will never have because of radiation poisoning (but don't worry, they are happy).
    If there were a contest to design the best happy-faced mascot for corporate disaster, Fukuppy would win.

  24. julie lee said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

    I totally missed the Fuckuppy reading. Probably because I had just been mulling over and re-forwarding a message I received this morning with subject "All Blue-Fin Tuna Caught in California are Radioactive" and the link GLOTREX@aol.com" <GLOTREX@aol.com. The first sentence of this article said: "Don't eat tuna." Said the tuna had been contaminated by radioactive water from Fukushima. Various researchers were cited, including one from Stanford University. So when I saw "Fukuppy" and the picture, my first impression was Fuku + puppy.

  25. jhh said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

    An update, from the Japan Times:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/10/15/national/firms-mascots-name-earns-ridicule/#.Ul3LaRbt_pA

  26. Zla'od said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

    @Michael Turton

    I think you have missed the crucial detail that this is a mascot for Fukushima *refrigerators.* Still a fukupp, but not as glorious as it would have been otherwise. (If you meant that it is the refrigerators that are ugly, powerful, and/or necessary, then never mind.)

  27. jeff said,

    October 16, 2013 @ 1:12 am

    What Matt, then Carl, and then cb said.
    THIS Fukushima is not THAT Fukushima.

    Besides, in Japan, just because something LOOKS LIKE English doesn't mean that there was ever any intention for it to BE English. I used to live near the "Break Wind Surf Shop" (in Japan). I talked to the guys there who didn't know what "break wind" meant, they were simply going for a windsurfing theme and they thought English would be cool, kind of like a skate shop putting up a sign in Graffiti font in the US.

  28. Soph said,

    October 16, 2013 @ 2:58 am

    As I stand somewhere between English & Japanese, I got both meanings.
    But the visual (egg and wings) made me think of 天使のたまご (tenshi no tamago, Angel’s Egg), a bleak 1985 anime about a girl in a deserted city carrying an egg.
    Be prepared for photos of people wearing this mascot’s costume if they don’t abandon it (I don’t see why they would, “gaijins getting it wrong” isn’t really an argument to ditch it).

  29. Graeme said,

    October 16, 2013 @ 5:26 am

    I read his name as 'Fuck-up py': a perfect description of the disaster at the plant.

    But the more I think of a winged egg, talking Doolittle style to other edible produce, the more I think he might just be the one 'new thing to make people happy' this company ever makes.

  30. Mark Mandel said,

    October 16, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

    @Eric P Smith: Oops. I was trying to, but I must have forgotten the semicolon after &amp
     (which I just now had to type as &amp;amp
      [which I just now had to type as &amp;amp;amp
       {which……………………

  31. Colin Fine said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    @jeff: Yes, they've been using English words for cool value rather than meaning for quite a while. I never did find out what "Come on a my house" meant, that I saw on billboards in Tokyo when I was there thirty years ago.

  32. Rodger C said,

    October 17, 2013 @ 9:26 am

    @Colin Fine: I take it you're too young to remember Rosemary Clooney:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mriXncI96lw

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