“Wow! How cute this bento is!” When you see a bento box of a kindergarten kid, you may find the smiling face on the Onigiri. You can see that the hand-made bento makes the child smile by looking and tasting it. Onigiri with a smiling face also makes you smile. Kyara-ben, character-bento is an arranged bento featuring foods to look like people.
Kyara-ben is just one example of personification. You can find out other personified things in Japan. For example, several TV commercials feature animals behaving like human beings.
The dog behaves like a human being, makes you smile, and enjoys watching the TV commercial without being annoyed by the selling pitch of the service. But, at the same time, you may also wonder why there are many personified things in Japan.
Personification has the history
Personification is not anything new in Japan. Choju-Giga (鳥獣戯画, “Animal Caricatures”) in around 12th to 13th century is known as the oldest personification drawing in Japan. Ukiyo-E (浮世絵 “Japanese woodblock prints”) in the 17th century had animals, fish, and tools other than people in the drawings.
Personification makes things closer
Personification is not just for children. It also grabs the attention of adults and makes them feel closer to the objects. For example, Japanese companies, including Softbank and Nisshinbo, have TV commercials featuring dogs behaving like humans. Their TV commercials draw the attention of adults to their companies, their services, and their products.
Personified things make people closer, too. For example, you may receive a sticker like shown below through an SNS messenger from your Japanese friend:
The bowing bear not only expresses a big thanks to you but also carries polite but informal feelings of your friend. Personified things help to explain how we feel when we cannot find suitable words.
Be careful about When, Where, To Whom, and How to Use
While personified things help avoid conflicts in communications in Japan, they are not magical tools for communications. For example, in some situations, face-to-face discussions work better than the use of cartoons or animals.
Personification can be communication tactics
Personification is one of the non-verbal communication tools for Japanse. For example, a little girl feels her mom’s love when she saw the Kayaben, hand-made by her mom. Her mom did not say anything, but the smiling face on the Onigiri tells it to her.