When I was a teenager US businesses decided shopping was no longer just “shopping” but a “shopping experience.” My local mall’s parking garage had a loop of a weirdly neutral female voice chanting “please enjoy your shopping experience” to a background of smooth, recycled jazz. Maybe they believed that if they recited the spell enough times the gods of commerce would answer, and transfigure the mall into some kind of pilgrimage spot dedicated to St. Bargain of Sales. But while the West is still busy convincing people that shopping is something you need a ticket for, Japan takes a different approach to satisfying their clientele: the absolute best customer service anywhere.
“Japanese don’t make things, they make things better” is a saying you hear a lot. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that tinkering with something doesn’t always improve it. Sometimes it derails it, then crashes it into a dark forest filled with ten kinds of creepy. My first experience with Japanese mannequins was at the local department store. The customer service was top notch as always, but I thought the soul-hungry eyes of the mannequins had a little too much making things “better.”
Now, I love cosplay. Never done it, but I like to see it done well. But while you can buy cosplay breasts to max out your bust to anime-size, there’s a reason anime eyes haven’t caught on. Epic boobs translate well into real life, but humongous eyes make you look like a cephalopod. Still, while I don’t like them, I can still shrug off a bit of soul-munching with an “Okay. Whatever, Japan.” I have a more “keep anime 2D” taste, but a lot of people probably think they are the cutest thing ever. But then there are these abominations:
The original link says these are “American style” mannequins in Okinawa. Given the sign, I’m pretty certain the picture was taken in Okinawa. The “American style,” though, was just the assumption of the poster. This style of mannequin has been spotted throughout the world, actually, even in London. The only blame I can lay on the Okinawa store (and anywhere else that that used them) is poor taste. But I still can’t help but wonder if there is a culture difference here. Thinking my wife (Japanese) would find them as creepy as me, I asked her what she thought:
“Nothing special. They’re just mannequins.”
The wife has spoken. The family of face-eating mannequins is not creepy. Here’s a close up of the boy:
But she did agree with me about the eerily lifelike robotic mannequin that once graced the Takashimaya department store. It’s supposed to be able to show a “range of emotions,” though I didn’t see anything except the expression of a serial-killing llama who stabs you 37 times in the chest, then eats your hands.
Another example of creepy Japanese mannequins are the Anzen Taro, which used to be seen on streets throughout Japan. “Anzen” means “safety” and “Taro” is a standard name like “John” in English. Though recently they’re being replaced by LED movies of a man waving a flag, construction crews still occasionally prop these up instead of posting a guy there to direct traffic.
But after writing this, I can’t help but think that maybe I just have an overactive imagination. (Anyone else still feel uncomfortable when their arm hangs over the edge of the bed because the monster that lives underneath might grab it?)
But, I also think that a mannequin head impaled Vlad Dracula style and covered in mold in the middle of a field is pretty creepy. Farmers in Japan sometimes use mannequins for scarecrows. They put the heads on sticks and dress them up with old clothes. Let the elements take their toll, and in a few weeks you’ve got Satan’s finger puppet. Mannequin heads are apparently so effective at keeping birds away that a hairdresser once even propped one up in front of a garbage area after they noticed it was frightening enough to make a 4-year-old cry. No birds since.