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1999 Zodiac Animal, Rabbits Are the Rage

May 28, 1999

Miffy decorates some of the hottest products of the year. (Dick Bruna Books; published in Japan by Fukuinkan Shoten.)

Japan, along with many other Asian countries, has long had a custom of assigning an animal to each year on a 12-year cycle. Perhaps because 1999 is the year of the rabbit, this long-eared creature has become the center of loving attention in Japan.

Bunny Characters Galore
The bunny character that has been appearing the most on products of all different sorts is Miffy, known for its large round face, far-set beady eyes, and small X-shaped mouth. Miffy came to life in 1955 when Dick Bruna, a Dutch writer of children's books, created the first book featuring the now-famous rabbit. The majority of Miffy fans in Japan are female office workers and young mothers who grew up reading Miffy books. One toy maker says the production of its stuffed Miffy dolls can hardly keep up with the brisk demand. Other items printed with images of Miffy, including stationery, cups, and towels, are also quick to go off store shelves.

Characters born in Japan are rising up to Miffy's challenge. My Melody, a bunny depicted as wearing a red hood shaped to fit its ears, was created by Japanese toy maker Sanrio Co. back in 1974. Its popularity has skyrocketed recently, especially among middle- and high-school girls. According to a bus company operating in Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures with several buses decorated with images of My Melody in its fleet, "there are high-schoolers who will wait for a later bus just to get on the My Melody bus." What is more, the company sold an amazing 20,000 prepaid fare cards with My Melody images in the first month they were available.

The British-born Peter Rabbit, a creation of Beatrix Potter, is also as popular as ever. All of these characters are depicted as friendly-looking creatures that warm people's hearts, and this seems to be the secret of their popularity.

The Real Stuff, Too
The living, breathing variety is no exception to the boom. Rabbits have become favorite pets not only for their cuddly appearance but also because they are small and quiet, and thus easy to care for. One pet shop specializing in rabbits receives so many orders that there is a waiting list for purchasing rabbits.

Shops selling only rabbit-related items and Websites set up by bunny lovers, where people can boast about their pets and exchange information, have also appeared. A commemorative postal stamp that went on sale in April 1999, moreover, featured a Japanese-style painting by celebrated artist Insho Domoto (1891-1975) titled "Usagi haruno ni asobu" (Rabbits Play in a Spring Field).

The bunny craze, it appears, will stay on a roll for some time to come.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.