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:
- 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?
- 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 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):