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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hatoyama Poppo Manju

鳩山ぽっぽ饅頭


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Tokyo's downtown Okachimachi district is one stop on the JR Yamanote line from Ueno. Okachimachi is, like Ueno, a far cry from the classier scene a little further west represented first and foremost by Ginza. Okachimachi is represented by its Ameyokocho shopping street - a mad bustle of shoppers on the weekend shouted at by criers of all kinds trying to push the best bargain.

The supermarkets are small and crowded, and chock-a-block with often seemingly randomly arranged produce.

Scanning the shelves of one little retailer this weekend, these packets of Hatoyama Poppo Manju caught my eye. Starting from the back of that phrase: Manju are traditional Japanese sweets, small balls made of flour and rice powder dough and filled with red azuki bean paste. Poppo is a child's word for "pigeon." Hatoyama (literally "pigeon mountain") is the name of the new prime minister of Japan. So, something like "Hatoyama Pidgy-Widgy Bean Cakes," - perhaps.

The speech bubble out the Right Honorable's mouth says "Poppo po, hato-poppo," which, apparently, are some of the lyrics from a nursery rhyme about pigeons.

The diagonal red stripe at the top says "anti-bureaucratic administration," in recognition of the new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government's pledge to rein in the presently unbridled power of the Japanese bureaucracy.

Thinking this might all add up to some clever satire comprehensible only to those thoroughly steeped in the culture, I asked one or two Japanese friends what it all meant.

They said "Hato-poppo" is a children's song about pigeons. The bit at the top is about the DPJ's anti-bureaucratic policy. A refreshingly WYSIWYG revelation!

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