Everyone in Japan knows the cartoon character Sazae-san. Originally a manga comic strip penned by Machiko Hasegawa, Sazae-san was turned into an animated TV series 50 years ago and still airs weekly. Sazae-san has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running animated TV series in the world. Sazae-san and her family, all of which bear names of seafood, are beloved by the people of Japan and the world.
But did you know that the Sazae-san comic strip was conceived in Fukuoka? Hasegawa spent her childhood in Fukuoka before moving to Tokyo, but later she fled back to Fukuoka during World War II. In 1946, she started publishing Sazae-san as a four-panel comic strip in the evening edition of a local newspaper called the Fukunichi. The strip was picked up by a national newspaper in 1949 and continued until 1974.
In Momochihama, where Hasegawa lived, the street stretching from central Nishijin to the plaza in front of Fukuoka Tower is called Sazae-san-dori. There are several statues of Sazae-san characters along the street, making it a fun and interesting walking destination. It is said that this is the same walking path that Hasegawa took when she dreamed up the sea-themed characters for her comic strip. The original comic strip even uses the real names of local sites like Seinan Gakuin.
Last year (2017), five shopping streets in and around Nishijin (namely, Orange-dori, Nishijin-chuo, Nakanishi, Takatori and Fujisaki) were re-branded as the Sazae-san Shopping Street in an effort to invigorate the area. Just as Sazae-san remains a beloved character more than 50 years after her birth, here’s hoping that Momochi and Nishijin secure a special place in the hearts of their residents for years to come.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn233, May 2018)