JAPAN: Kingdom of Characters

Hello Kitty! Japanese characters come to life at RMIT Gallery

Do you remember Astro Boy? Have you ever owned anything emblazoned with Hello Kitty? Have you – or any person you know – become addicted to the iconic Pokemon? Welcome to the world of Japanese characters, in a playful summer exhibition at RMIT Gallery.

JAPAN: Kingdom of Characters, from 21 January- 19 March, promises to be an engaging holiday activity for aficionados as well as families.

This exhibition including figures, panels, film and character-related products will showcase representative animated characters from the 1950s until the present day.

The 60-year history of Japan since the end of World War II can be characterised through the history the Japanese fondness for characters, which have permeated Japanese life from manga to TV and computer games – and especially character goods.

What exactly are “characters”? Why do “characters” appear and become popular? What kind of social reality do they reflect? Interest in Japanese subculture, particularly anime and manga, has been increasing rapidly all over the world.

In response, the Japan Foundation has focused on the country’s obsession with characters in this exhibition, which not only gives visitors a peek inside the subculture, but also examines the impact they have had on Japanese society.

RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said that while quirky and playful, JAPAN: Kingdom of Characters would provide visitors with an understanding of the cultural and historical love of characters in Japanese society.

“It is fascinating to learn that it’s perfectly normal for Japanese high school girls to believe they can’t live without characters,” Ms Davies said.

“So we are building a reproduction of a typical girl’s bedroom in the gallery, filled to the brim with character goods.”

It has been suggested that the world of characters might be compared to the myriad of gods in Japanese culture, and is one explanation for the bond and tranquillity people sense from characters.

With this in mind, the character mascots often seen casually hanging from Japanese girls’ mobile phones and bags might be seen as a kind of ‘protective amulet’, and the fact that lining their rooms with characters creates a sense of calmness, doesn’t seem so strange.


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