Courtesy of Wowow

You don' have to live in Japan for long before you become very familiar with anpan, that unique Japanese creation of bread filled with sweet red bean paste. But do you know about Anpanman, the cartoon character whose head is made of anpan? Just ask any Japanese toddler they can fill you in on this popular bean-powered superhero, whose work is helping hungry and troubled people in Anpan World.

Yanase Takashi began drawing the comics of Anpanman and his fellow made-from-food characters years before anyone even dreamed of dango sankyodai. In 1990 these were adapted for television, and now Anpanman can be seen every Friday at 5:30pm on Nippon TV, channel 4. In the stories, Jam Ojisan (Uncle Jam), a regular human, creates Anpanman by baking his anpan head. Anpanman has some special skills that help him fight the bad guys—he can fly, and he also skillfully executes the an-punch and an-kick when necessary. Of course, he does have a few weak points. Those are primarily bacteria, mold and dirt. And water. But thanks to Jam Ojisan, he has a special helmet that can protect his bread face from getting wet. Anpanman loses his special powers if his head is damaged, but Jam Ojisan can bake a new one each day.

BaikinmanAny superhero needs an arch rival, and so for Anpanman there's - you guessed it - Baikinman (Bacteria Man). He comes from Baikin Planet and zips about in little flying machines, each week plotting a new way to fell Anpanman or his friends. His sidekick and girlfriend is Dokin-chan. She's a bit moody and thinks she is the cutest girl in the world. She also seems to have a bit of a crush on Shokupanman, one of Anpanman's friends, whose bread slice head is, well, handsome if you like that sort of thing.

In a recent episode, Tendonman (his head is a donburi rice bowl with shrimp tempura poking out of the top) and Tenmusu-chan (her head is a rice ball with shrimp tempura) meet and become quite smitten with each other. But a hungry Baikinman and Dokin-chan devise a plan to turn them against each other. A competition is staged to see who can make the best shrimp tempura, which Baikinman and Dokin-chan gladly judge, greedily eating more and more. But all is not lost! As Tendonman and Tenmusu-chan near exhaustion, Anpanman comes to the rescue. The requisite fight ensues, and though we think several times that Anpanman will meet his demise, he comes through in the end with a strong an-punch to save the day.

The shows are formulaic, and the female characters often fall into stereotypical roles. Still, the show tries to have a positive influence on kids. Mothers are probably thankful that their toddlers can make so many healthy "food" friends watching the show, and even befriend Hamigakiman (Tooth-brushing Man), one of the gang featured on Anpanman's web page. And Anpanman certainly is cute. Even if you don't like to eat anpan, his round face, rosy cheeks, and big smile are sure to win you over.

Stephanie Wratten

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
Issues 248/9 -