by Ramona D. Marek, MS ED.
Japan’s love for cats began over 1,000 years when ago when they likely came in on Chinese ships. The Japanese people were smitten with the mousers who protected Buddhist scrolls and crops alike. The adoration ran deep, cats were cherished pets by the elites until 1602 when the government decreed the felines emancipated to catch rodents threatening the silk worm industry. More people became aware of cats and the affinity for felines grew into obsession. Over 300 years ago felines graced the popular art form called ukiyo-e, which are wood block prints. Fast forward to modern Japan and the obsession with cats in popular culture is stronger than ever with cat cafes, Maneki-Neko (the waving good luck cat), the multibillion dollar Sanrio Hello Kitty enterprise, reigning internet star, Maru and a blue, earless, bobtail cat named Doraemon.
Doraemon, created by Fujiko F. Fujio, debuted in 1969 as a manga series, is now an anime series and media franchise. Doraemon, a blue, earless, bobtail robotic cat, is sent from the future (22nd century) by his owner, Sewashi, to help a “mess” of 10 year-old boy, Nobita, who’s often bullied, make better choices in life to secure a better adulthood for himself and his future descendants. Sewashi is Nobita’s great-grandson from the future.
Doraemon has a fourth dimensional pocket on his tummy full of amazing gadgets, tools and medicine from the future to save any situation. Some gadgets include the hopter, a bamboo helicopter blade that pops on the head for quick travel; mecha maker, a 3-D printer; and the Anywhere Door, which enables Doraemon and friends to travel anywhere, to any time they wish.
When Doraemon was manufactured, September 3, 2112, at the Matsushiba Robot Factory, he was originally yellow and had ears. He was a model mouser, until a dreadful event. As Doraemon catnapped by a plate of his favorite dessert, “dorayaki”, red bean pancakes, or “yummy buns” in the English version, a naughty mouse nibbled his ears. Doraemon was rushed to surgery where the ear remnants were removed. When Doraemon saw he was earless he turned blue with shock. The traumatic event also left him afraid of mice.
A majority of Doraemon episodes are comedic misadventures with underlying lessons regarding values such as integrity, perseverance, courage, family and respect for elders, while several noteworthy environmental issues are also often visited, including animal homelessness, global warming, and deforestation. The films are slightly darker in content than the TV episodes.
Doraemon is a prevalent part of Japan’s popular culture understood by children and adults. In March 2008, the foreign minister, Masahiko Komura, appointed Doraemon as Japan’s first “animation ambassador” to “travel around the world as an anime ambassador and deepen people’s understanding of Japan so they will become our friends.”
In Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games, Doraemon was chosen as Japan’s ambassador representing Japan’s core values of respect and friendship which coincide with two of the three Olympic qualities. The third Olympic quality? Excellence. The futuristic feline and other characters exude excellence, they make educational manga, help raise money for charitable causes, and the Doraemon Fund raises money to aid victims of natural disasters.
Doraemon was a good luck cat for the delegation because Tokyo won the bid for the 2020 Olympics. He appeared in the 2016 Summer Olympics closing ceremonies in Rio ready to welcome the world to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Regarding the lucrative media franchise, Doraemon has TV series in several languages, movies, video games and a musical. In May of 2014 TV Asahi Corporation teamed with the Walt Disney Company to bring Doraemon to Disney HD with some English adaptions for the American audience. The franchise has 63 video games.
With 37 feature films, Doraemon has clawed his way to the top. Stand by Me Doraemon, released in 2014, won the Japanese Academy Award for best animated film and swatted down Godzilla as the most successful movie franchise measured by total admissions. Along with the full length films, the franchise has over 20 short films often shown with the feature films. In March of 2017 watch for the 38th film, “Doraemon the Movie 2017: Great Adventure in the Antarctic Kachi Kochi.
Ambassador Doraemon worked his diplomatic magic easing tensions with China when Stand by Me Doraemon was released in the People’s Republic of China, May 2015. It was the first Japanese film released in China in over three years. The film scored a single day record US$14.2 million, and a four day opening of US$38.5 million surpassing the previous records held by Kung Fu Panda 2 and How to Train Your Dragon 2, respectively. In five days it became the highest grossing non-Hollywood animated film in China’s history.
An online survey polled attendees of Stand by Me Doraemon, a nostalgic coming of age story, and learned “20.4 percent were children, 21.50 percent were in their 20s, 20.4 percent were in their 30s, 20.4 percent were in their 40s. 47 percent were male while 53 percent were female. Eighty-eight point four percent of all moviegoers cried at some point during the movie (and 11.7 percent lied),” according to Arma!Japan, an entertainment blog.
Doraemon is truly a pop culture icon for the people, spanning generations and bridging estranged countries. Well done, blue futuristic cat. Doraemon says, “The future is meow!”
Doraemon, Season 1, on Disney HD
Doraemon YouTube videos in Japanese with English subtitles
Japan’s Unlikely Ambassador: a Cartoon Robot Cat From the Future Wins China’s Hearts and Minds. Rob Cain. Forbes.
Box Office Shocker: Japanese Film Wins at Chinese Box Office. Rob Cain. Forbes.
Doraemon trumps Hello Kitty for Olympic Games ambassador. Amy Chavez. The Japan Times.
Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed., is an award-winning writer, member and former director of the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Cat Friendly Practice Advisory Council, nonveterinarian member of the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians. She is a contributing writer for many national and international print and digital magazines, including Animal Wellness magazine, Catnip newsletter (Tufts University), CatWatch and DogWatch (Cornell University), and Cat Talk (Cat Fanciers’ Association). Ramona has written about various topics, including the role and symbolism of the cat in fine arts (art, dance, literature, mythology, film, and history), animal health and welfare, and the pet industry. Her new book, Cats for the GENIUS, is a comprehensive guide to feline care.
Ramona and her husband share their home with Tsarevich Ivan, a joie de vivre silver tabby Siberian, and Natasha Fatale, a full-time diva dressed as an “anything but plain” brown tabby.