Recently, I found myself looking around on YouTube for interesting videos to watch and I came across a video where someone dressed up as an apple mascot was playing absolutely insane drumming riffs to a somewhat childish J-pop song. After sharing the initial video with some friends of mine who were similarly impressed by the drumming, I looked a bit more into the meme sensation and found that this drummer had other videos showing some impressive skills playing with other mascot acts and had drawn some reaction videos by other people who similarly found the drumming to be extremely talented, including some absolutely ridiculous drumfills.
In Japan, they take mascots very seriously, with a high degree of lore, and this particular mascot, Nyango Star, is no different. Everything about this chill mascot (yuru chara in Japanese) is extra. The name of the mascot is a three-layer reference to ringo being the Japanese word for apple, Ringo Star being an amazingly talented drummer, and Nyan being the sound a cat makes when it cries. All of this leads to the lore of a talented drummer being a cat spirit who possesses an apple, and given the fact that an insanely talented and very secretive and private drummer is playing inside a costume of a cat-apple, it all makes perfect sense.
Yet as I looked into the story there was a lot more going on than simply talented drumming. This mascot is carrying a heavy burden. After all, Nyango Star represents Kuroishi City, a struggling small agricultural town in a rural Japanese prefecture, and the stakes are very high. Like many areas of the world, Japan’s rural communities are imploding in population as a declining population moves increasingly to urban and suburban communities, leaving the apple farms and former manufacturing cities that serve those communities behind to shrink in size dramatically. While Japan’s population losses as a whole are serious, the state of Japan’s countryside is even more dire. The mayor of the town that Nayngo Star represents views the viral success of their mascot as being important in bringing attention to a struggling city, bringing tourists and residents, and reversing the decline of at least one community that would otherwise be unknown except for the insane drumming skills of its mascot.
This is a heavy burden for an apple to bear. Nyango Star’s image helps to present the town to the wider world, not only in Japan but around the world. Nyango Star sells merchandise, including adorable apple cat stuffies, appears in Japanese Pepsi commercials, and other products. In stark contrast to other situations, the person in the costume who plays drums was the creator of the mascot and owns all of the rights to the mascot and so profits from the merchandise deals. It is unclear whether the undeniable skills and cuteness of the mascot will be enough to save his small town, though. Only a bit north of 30,000 people live in Kuroishi City, and about a third of them are elderly. Here’s hoping that at least a few people feel that it is worth visiting the town for the mascot and seeing what it has to offer, even if it is asking a lot of a cute apple to save a city from irreversible demographic decline. It’s worth a shot, though, even if it asking a bit too much.