Boys will be boys – the Japanese fascination with Manneken Pis

What is it about Manneken Pis–the statue/fountain of a little boy peeing–that makes it so popular in Japan? While the original is in Brussels, Belgium, Japan hosts no fewer than seven replica statues and innumerable effigies.

For many Tokyo commuters, they can catch sight of the little guy daily at the south end of JR Hamamatsucho Station, happily making water.  Like the Belgian original, this statue is a working fountain with a hefty wardrobe.  His garb is changed regularly and often features traditional Japanese costumes, suitable to the season, although he also is occasionally seen in a station master’s uniform.

Another particularly well known version of Manneken Pis in Japan is in the Iya River valley of Shikoku.  This statue stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking the deep valley.

Presumably this one is in too remote a location to have a working fountain.  But it is said the statue was placed here because this was a favorite spot for local boys to relieve themselves.  It’s not hard to imagine boys giggling and competing with each other to shoot the farthest.

I recall being a bit taken aback during my early days in Japan when, while out drinking with friends, we would see an inebriate relieving himself into bushes, gaps between buildings, or even just the gutter of a city street.  In the land of plentiful public toilets, this hardly seems necessary, but I guess when a drunk emerges from a nice warm bar into the cold of the night he gets an urge that just can’t be put off.  Nonetheless, it is a curious practice in a country that seems so civilized about its toilet practices.  Do grown men really have so little self control?

Fortunately, public urination seems to happen less often these days (or maybe I just don’t get out as much as I used to). I did notice a Tokyo taxi driver facing a gutter in broad daylight not long ago, so I’m not ready to say the practice has been eradicated, just less common.

As I mentioned, there are replicas of Manneken Pis scattered across Japan.  Other locations include the garden atop Kobe’s Mount Rokko, Odawara train station, and in parks or public squares in Hachinohe, Kurume and Moriya. There are others, I’m sure.  I just haven’t found them yet.

Miniatures show up outside commercial establishments or even as characters on items sold in souvenir shops.  The one below, also a working fountain, is outside a noodle-making school in Kotohira in Shikoku.  The fountain’s receptacle is a kama, iron cooking pot, bearing the legend “Udon noodles taste best when cooked in an iron pot”. Someone has a weird sense of humor.

A few years ago, when Suntory first introduced Dakara, a lightly fruity soft drink containing minerals and fruit juices, it used several white Manneken Pis statues in its advertising of the product. The statues would drink Dakara and the drink would seemingly go right through them.  It was catchy and cute…and presumably had great appeal with Japanese consumers. At least the drink seems popular enough.

I can only conclude that Japanese find the image of an innocent boy making water to be fun.  Who knows why?

© 2018 and Vicki L. Beyer
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