Decade after decade, Japan has gone through one fad after the next idolizing cute critters. In the 1970s, they were pandas from China. In 1984, Mitsubishi Motors wowed the public with commercials for its Mirage subcompact featuring a manically dashing Australian frill-neck lizard. Then in the 1980s was the "Namen na yo!" (None of your lip, y'hear?) boom in real kittens dressed up to resemble delinquent students. In 1994, meerkats were all the rage following their appearance in Disney's animated film, The Lion King." In 2006, consumer loan company Aiful stirred controversy with TV commercials featuring "Que-chan," an appealing Chihuahua. Just to name a few.
And this year, reports the Nikkei Marketing Journal (Jan 20), signs are in evidence that more young women will be flocking to frogs -- both real and of the ersatz variety.
In early January, Mao Maejima traveled all the way from her home in Tokyo to visit the Kaeru-kan (frog pavilion) at the Awashima Marine Park in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture (http://www.marinepark.jp/enjoy/frog.html) , where 200 frogs of roughly 60 different species can be viewed and sometimes fondled.
It's an experience that can truly be described as "ribiting."
The 22-year-old Maejima thinks they're simply adorable, to the extent that she sends notes to friends on stationery festooned with images of frogs. She also stopped by a pet shop to inquire about adopting one, but came away discouraged, as amphibians are delicate creatures requiring a lot of care and attention.
Another visitor to the frog pavilion in Numazu was 11-year-old Hinata Komagi, who traveled there with her family all the way from Morioka in Iwate Prefecture. A photo shows her smiling with delight as she watches a bug-eyed "nekome-gaeru" (Phyllomedusa bicolor, giant monkey frog), native to the Amazon basin, perched atop the back of her hand.
A pavilion staff member remarked that while some squeamish people are repelled by frogs, others, especially women, are surprisingly receptive, finding their behavior endearing. This has also opened up the door to a wave of commercial spin-off goods. Visit the Saitama home of one Yuki Nakagawa, 42, and you'll see a collection of several hundred items, ranging from dinner plates to bobble-head frogs that fasten to walls with suction cups. "My favorites are the ones that look like the real things," she said.
The Kaeru Kissa coffee shop in Nagoya is overrun with the amphibians -- on the counter, around the cash register, and so on. Its proprietor, Tomoko Takigawa, 33, points out that at her shop, the Japanese word for frog, "kaeru," can extend its meaning to "kibun wo kaeru" (to change one's mood), and hence her choice for the naming. Until February, she's serving a special "yadokuimo kaeru," a play on words from "poison dart frog" that incorporates the word "imo" (sweet potato). A perfectly safe to eat variety graces the dish, with eyes made from black beans.
Another delicacy offered at Takigawa's establishment is a "Tomin (hibernation) parfait" containing the shape of a green frog carved out from a scoop of pistachio ice cream.
"Thanks to the wider dissemination of information via the Internet, we've been able to make contact with more latent fans," says Haruko Shimazaki, chairperson of the Kaeru Tomo no Kai, a group of amphibian lovers that claims several hundred members nationwide. The group's site （http://www007.upp.so-net.ne.jp/frog/) appears to be in its nascent stages, but visitors to the site can read reviews frog-related books. Should the demand be sufficient, they may eventually be able to order frog-related goods.© Japan Today