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WHAT'S COOL IN JAPAN|
Hamutaro the hamster wants to talk with his human friend Roko and express his affection for her in words. Learning about the magic sunflower seeds that are said to give hamsters the ability to talk with humans, Hamutaro sets out with his hamster buddies to look for the seeds in Hamham Land, a dreamland inhabited only by hamsters. But he must face the rivalry of the wicked Devil Hamster, who is also hunting for the rare seeds. Can Hamutaro find the magic seeds and bring it safely back home?
Hamutaro the hamster is currently one of the most popular characters among young kids in Japan. "At last year's field day, my class did a dance to the Hamutaro song," says a second-grade girl living in the city of Kobe. Another girl in Tokyo also danced to the song at a kindergarten event. "Mom made a hamster costume for me," she says proudly.
Hamutaro first appeared in the spring of 1997 as the leading character of Tottoko Hamutaro, a comic series carried in a monthly magazine for second-graders. His caretaker is Roko, a fifth-grade girl. With big round eyes and a pudgy form, Hamutaro became an instant favorite for kids. The appearance of various unique hamster buddies, known as the Hamuchans, made the series even more popular. It made its way into other publications as well, and since July 2000 an animated version has been showing on television.
Today Hamutaro is featured on around 3,000 products made by about 50 companies, including toys, stationery, clothes, bags, lunch boxes, and watches. At department stores, the section offering Hamutaro products is always crowded with kids, both boys and girls. Hamutaro-related books have sold around 7.4 million copies, moreover, while videotapes and DVDs have sold over 1.4 million copies.
Then, late last year, Hamutaro made it into movie theaters. The story of the animated film Hamuhamu rando no Daiboken (Adventure in Hamham Land) is described at the top of this page. The movie features the voices of Minimoni, which is formed by four members of the super-popular group Morning Musume. They appear as a quartet of little hamsters and sing in the movie, adding to the film's popularity.
Adventure in Hamham Land was shown together with the newest Godzilla movie. Godzilla is 60 meters (about 197 feet) tall and weighs 30,000 metric tons, whereas Hamutaro is 8.6 centimeters (about 3.4 inches) tall and has the weight of five strawberries. This means that Japan's tiniest and hugest heroes joined hands to attract 2.5 million spectators. A second Hamutaro film will again be featured together with Godzilla in theaters this winter holiday season.
Will Hamutaro find the magic sunflower seeds and become able to talk with his friend Roko? All the Hamutaro fans across Japan certainly hope so!
Photo: The irresistible Hamutaro is loved by kids throughout Japan. (© Ritsuko Kawai / Shogakukan Inc., SMDE, TV Tokyo)