It started with an old, worn sign: a fat man with a bad haircut holding an ax over his shoulder and riding a bear:

I couldn’t read the text but I could tell it wanted me not to do something (due to the cross-out circle on his chest). I didn’t know who he was, but in later months, I would think of him as “Japanese ax man”, or “man riding bear”, or “Japanese Paul Bunyan”.

His name is Kintarō 金太郎 (aka “Golden Boy”). On first glance I thought this was just another amusing, random Japanese street sign. I didn’t realize this is a popular character from Japanese folklore, based on a real person, Sakata Kintoki 坂田金時.

The sign to right says 遊歩道 (ゆうほどう) at top, which means ‘promende’, and 杉並区役所 (Suginami Ward Office) at bottom.

A few things I need to figure out:

  1. In one sign, the kanji on his chest is 宝 (treasure), and the sign says, 宝くじ (lottery). However, in the vintage picture book (shown below), he has 金 (gold) on his chest. Gold and treasure are similar, but is there a reason for this difference?
  2. Also, the picture book is titled ウロタソキ (Urotasoki). I can’t find any reference to this katakana word anywhere on the internet.

From a picture book 絵本…

Kintaro ax boy Japanese legend picture book

Other photos:

bear ax man Kintaro

Source: Wikipedia

From the Koganei 小金井市 city website:

Kintaro bear ax man Japan Koganei

Kintaro as a scarecrow in the Inabuchi rice terraces 稲渕の棚田 of Asuka Village 明日香村, Nara:

Kintaro on Twitter (these examples were all posted in the span of just a few weeks in September, 2015):

https://twitter.com/easami14/status/641968446725468160

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