A politician for the Japanese Communist Party attempted to use Pikachu from the Pokémon franchise in order to garner more support for their campaign.
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The politician, Saeko Umemura, could be seen campaigning for a seat in Japan’s House of Councilors around various Japanese neighborhoods accompanied by the series’ electrical mascot.
“On 6.18, we went from Kikkawa → Matsubushi → Minami-Koshigaya → Kokuokuen → Tokorozawa,” she explained (machine translation via DeepL) in a June 18th tweet. “Everywhere there is widespread anger over soaring prices and pension cuts. We want to create a society where people are happy to live longer.”
“Lower high school tuition from high school students! and. Talking on the street with Mr. Ito, a member of the House of Councilors [the upper house of the House of Representatives]. Many children waved to us. #SaekoUmemura”
However, there were a few problems with Pikachu’s side gig as a member of Umemura’s campaign and his presence at her speech outside Saitama Prefecture’s Tokorozawa Station – namely the fact she had someone in a blatantly knock-off Pikachu costume in tow, and she all but certainly didn’t have permission from The Pokémon Company or Nintendo to use it.
Official Pikachu costumes have been seen in Nintendo-produced YouTube videos and official events all around Asia, marching in parades, appearing in flash mob style “outbreaks,” and dancing for the public. Even the anime has acknowledged the Pikachu march and its swaying gait.
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Japanese and even western Twitter users were outraged at Umemura’s gall.
“Dear Pokémon Co.,” @kaworutokotaro began, tagging the Japanese Pokémon Company Twitter. “The House of Councillors election has been announced and the campaigning has started, and the Japanese Communist Party candidate for the Saitama electoral district, Saeko Umemura, is using a Pokémon-like costume to advertise in the city. Was this officially authorized by the company?”
Along with alerting their followers to where they could report the copyright infringement directly to the Pokémon Company, @kaworutokotaro even found the offending knock-off costume. “It really was a pachimon, lol,” they mocked.
Pachimon, or “パチモン,” is Japanese for a cheap imitation, and in this case a delightful play on words. The costume and similar ones were shown to retail from ¥4,290 JPY to ¥6,250 JPY (or around $31.43 USD to $45.80 USD).
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“What about the unauthorized use of low quality Pikachu?” questioned @naa_iko. “What kind of people would vote for a communist who can’t even follow the rules? Are they going to insist that it’s not Pikachu because it’s low quality?”
“That Pikachu looks like a philosophy and literature student, @EliasFacheroX quipped. “Communist and drug addicted.”
Sora News 24 claimed that while Japanese politicians will use posters, trucks, and vans to get their message out “One thing you generally won’t see, though, are celebrities endorsing politicians who are running for office.”
“Whether because of a general preference in Japan for keeping entertainment and politics separate or Japanese society not assigning so much weight to the personal opinions of actors and musicians regarding matters of governance, when candidates hit the campaign trail, they’re not usually accompanied by any show business stars.”
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Nonetheless, the use of costumed characters by a politician has been done before, albeit likewise without any official authorization. Reiwa Shinsengumi party member Oishi Akiko used poor costumes of Cookie Monster and Elmo during her August 2020 campaign for the House of Representatives. Her photographs of the two were later deleted.
Attempts to link with geek culture have also had mixed results. Yamada Taro has proudly been dubbed an otaku, using anime songs in his campaigns, and advocating for freedom of speech, internet privacy, and preserving art and manga. On the other hand, Kenzo Fujisue posted himself holding issues of Tawawa on Monday, drawing outrage from critics of the already controversial manga.
Love Hina author Ken Akamatsu announced in late 2021 that he would be running for the House of Councilors, vowing to protect freedom of expression. He had previously spoken out against Japanese manga and anime being “regulated by overseas standards,” and that Japan not having to deal with “the political correctness problem” gave them a competitive edge.
While Japanese politicians are regularly a part of or misuse geek culture, both Nintendo and the Pokémon Company are unlikely to let this sleight go unpunished, as the two actively oppose the use of their works in political campaigning.
Shortly after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris US presidential campaign organizers created yard signs to be shared in Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020, Nintendo released guidelines stating “Please also refrain from bringing politics into the Game.”
Of course this may be part of Umemura’s plan- the risk of legal action or damages worth the publicity to her campaign. Ironically, one of the newer Pokémon is Mimikyu. It’s a Ghost and Fairy type with an appearance so horrifying it drapes itself in a Pikachu costume to make friends.
As of writing, it is unclear how well Saeko Umemura performed in the recent election.
What do you make of Pikachu’s day out with the Japanese Communist Party? Let us know on social media and in the comments below!
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