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Japan cranks out a huge number of corporate and regional mascot characters, and each one is required to be cute, right down to its name. Unfortunately, sometimes a moniker that sounds perfectly fine in Japanese doesn’t have quite the same inoffensive ring to it in English.

Of course, naming choices can have unfortunate implications for Japanese speakers as well, like with Akita Prefecture’s cute little garden eel character called Chinanabo. In Chinanabo’s case, however, there’s enough evidence to make us think his creators are in on the joke.

For most people, eels occupy a rung between fruit bats and tarantulas on the cuteness ladder. Garden eels are a unique breed, though. Lacking the protruding teeth and electric powers of their more fearsome brethren, garden eels are tiny little guys who feed on plankton. They’re as intimidating as an unmowed patch of grass, and only slightly more active, as they spend their waking hours half-buried in the ocean floor, swaying gently in the current and munching on plankton that drifts by.

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With so many of the traditionally cute animals already represented (Hello Kitty for cats, Rilakkuma for bears), Akita-based musician Junya Watanabe and illustrator Ai Iseki decided to create a song and animated music video about garden eels. Watanabe whipped up two designs, the spotted Mohichin, and the stripped Nisshi. But what to collectively call the duo?

In Japanese, garden eels are called chinanago, a combination of “unusual” (chin) and “sea eel” (anago). Watanabe and Iseki decided to play around with the term a little and settled on calling their characters Chinanabo.

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There’s no way to sugarcoat what makes the name Chinanabo so shocking in Japanese, so at this point our more sensitive readers may wish to instead look at some adorable cat photos.

Still here? OK, then it’s time to tell you that Chinanabo’s name is a triple-layered joke revolving around the Japanese word for wiener.

▼ As in the kind you put condoms on, rather than condiments

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Chinchin is a Japanese slang word for every guy’s most treasured part of his own body. So right off the bat, Chinanabo is a name that will cause a giggle fit in 70 percent of elementary school students (and 90 percent of RocketNews24 writers).

Moving along, shortening anago down to just ana turns it into the Japanese word for “hole,” so now we’ve got not just a penis joke, but a urethra joke, too.

But Watanabe and Iseki weren’t quite done ramming the joke down people’s throats just yet. For added measure, they stuck bo at the end. Bo, when written with the kanji character 坊, is a pretty common add-on to nicknames that means something like “little” or “kid.” However, Chinanabo’s bo is written with the character 棒, which means rod.

▼ Again, the kind that makes babies, not soft rock albums

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Totally obliterating any chance Chinanabo’s creators had of claiming this is all unintentional are the lyrics to Garden Eel Song.

Things start out wholesomely enough, with lines about the garden eel poking its head out in search of some tasty plankton.

And then we come to the chorus:

“Chin, chin! Chinanago! Chin chin chin chin, Chinanago!”

Or, alternatively,

“Wiener! Garden eel! Wiener wiener, garden eel!”

Surprisingly, it seems executives at established Japanese toy maker Takara Tomy are looking to get into the phallic-shaped plush toy market, and have licensed the characters in order to produce a pair of Chinanabo hand puppets which go on sale December 27 for 1,344 yen (US$13.70).

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You know something? Maybe we’ve been too harsh in our judgment. After all, with a respected mainstream company like Takara Tomy on board, maybe Chinanabo isn’t just an extended schlong joke. We are curious about that trigger on the handle though. What happens when you squeeze it?


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Schlong joke it is, then.

Sources: Byokan Sunday, Akita Keizai Shimbun
Top image: YouTube
Insert images: Sumida Aquarium, YouTube, McDonald’s Japan, CD Journal, Akita Keizai Shimbun, Twitter