The sight of Pikachu, Pokemon's electrifying yellow mouse mascot, soaring above Manhattan five years ago in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was one of the catalysts for writing Japanamerica. Aside from Independence Day on July 4, Thanksgiving is among the most American of holidays celebrated in the United States--allegedly originating in a feast shared by Native Americans and Pilgrims to mark a rich harvest--and the Macy's Parade is somewhat akin to processions of floats in Japanese matsuri (festivals), albeit a decidedly secular version, branded by a major department store for over eight decades.
Seeing Pikachu's balloon likeness alongside American stalwarts from my childhood like Snoopy, Mickey, Bullwinkle and others seemed a striking statement of just how deeply Japanese animation and its iconic character designs had penetrated so-called 'mainstream' American sensibilities.
A few months ago in New York, I read in the New York Times's Art Beat blog that conceptual artist Takashi Murakami's blissed-out and vaguely menacing icons, Kaikai and Kiki, would be the next Macy's participants to make the trans-Pacific T-Day flight from Japan. Hardly ubiquitous children's fare like Pokemon, K & K are unlikely to elicit squeals of recognition, as yesterday's NYT story notes, and might just cause shudders of discomfort in those kids seduced into staring.
But Murakami's unsettlingly passive-aggressive take on kawaii, or the Japanese aesthetic of needy uber-cuteness, may be softened a bit by the artist's own presence, marching alongside his creations down Central Park West in a self-designed, goofy-green, smiley-faced flower costume, laughing, once again, all the way back to the bank.