‘Ama’ divers denounce ‘obscene’ city mascot, demand its withdrawal

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MORE than 100 ama divers (exceptional sea divers who use no breathing equipment) are demanding that the coastal city of Shima, Mie Prefecture, scrap a newly adopted mascot on the grounds that it is obscene.

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They say the demure girl cartoon character, with large breasts, tight top and skirt riding up her thighs, is overtly sexual and is disrespectful toward a dignified profession.

“The character is obscene. I believe it verges on child pornography,” said Isako Utsubo, 39, a local housewife who supports the campaign.

Utsubo’s mother, 65-year-old Fumiko Yamamoto, is an ama.

Representatives of the group plan to deliver a petition on Thursday demanding that the mascot, named Aoshima Megu, be dropped as the official face of Shima.

Utsubo said if the city keeps the character it will incur global ridicule when it hosts world leaders for the Group of Seven summit next year.

As of Tuesday, the petition had been signed by more than 100 active and retired local ama, both men and women, with the ultimate number of signatures expected to approach 200, Utsubo said.

While the word ama is often understood worldwide to refer to female divers who use no artificial breathing equipment, in Japanese it includes their male counterparts when written with different characters.

The city said it will consider the demand once the petition is delivered.

Officials will consider retouching the mascot, although its withdrawal is unlikely, said Tomoyo Inoue, a Shima official in charge of tourism strategy.

Aoshima Megu debuted as Shima’s official moe (adorable) mascot in October last year as part of a drive by the city to rejuvenate its economy and spruce up the image of its increasingly aging ama professionals. It was designed by a Mie-based design company called Mouthbeach.

Trivializing the ama profession, said Utsubo, belies the real-life danger the divers face.

“Ama in our city are all risking their lives to dive. In the past, some have died. It’s that serious, being an ama,” said Utsubo. “It’s for the honor of those who died that I’m fighting. My mom is angry, too.”

The city describes Megu on a website dedicated to the character as 17 years old and a girl who greatly admires her grandmother, a veteran diver. Megu dreams of becoming a “cute, fashionable” ama. She has a vivacious personality but is a bit clumsy, the narrative says, adding she is currently looking for a boyfriend.

“We wanted to portray Aoshima Megu as an ama apprentice whose diving skills are still amateurish but who is so passionate about her career and likable that everybody will want to root for her,” Inoue said.

She rejected Utsubo’s claim that the mascot is intended to titillate male viewers.

However, Inoue acknowledged that several factors are far-fetched: Megu’s attire, a traditional ama uniform called an isogi, does not resemble that worn by real-life divers today, and the fact that she is 17 is out of keeping with the reality that many ama divers in the city are in their 60s or older.

“She looks different from real-life ama divers, yes. There is no doubt about it,” Inoue said. “But the thing is, we’re not trying to make her look real in the first place. She is an anime character, after all.”

The character has attracted a following already. Virtual stickers featuring Megu’s likeness for use on the messaging app Line were purchased by 15,000 people from 10 countries within two weeks of their release in early May, the city said.

©2015 THE JAPAN TIMES (TOKYO) / DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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