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With over 300,000 people piling into its trains each day, you’d think the Kyoto Municipal Subway would be sitting pretty financially. That’s actually not the case, though. The city’s status as the former capital of Japan is both a source of local pride and a huge draw for travelers, but being literally built atop the foundations of Japanese history means that any subterranean construction can only take place after extensive surveys ensure that no cultural artifacts would be damaged in the process.

As such, maintenance and expansion costs for the Kyoto subway are more than double what they would be in a similarly sized, less historically significant city. So in order to help raise the revenue necessary to treat Kyoto’s past with the respect it deserves, the subway’s operators are turning to something with more modern appeal: cute anime girls.

Ironically, Kyoto’s subway has the highest fares in the nation, with a ticket to just the next station along the line already costing 210 yen (US$1.80). Even still, the network has been operating at a huge deficit for years. In 2010, while averaging 330,000 passengers a day, the Kyoto subway still posted an 8.6 billion-yen loss for the year.

▼ As beautiful as Kyoto’s maples may look in red, the subway system’s accountants would prefer to keep the shade out of their books.

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In order to return to profitability, the Kyoto subway says it needs an additional 50,000 passengers a day. To that end, it’s enacted a number of marketing and branding tactics, such as putting markers on stairs to show the health-conscious how many calories they’re burning by skipping the escalator, or holding an election to decide which of the Kyoto Zoo’s animal residents should be the honorary station master for nearby Keage Station.

But the move that’s attracted the most attention is the creation of a group of anime-style subway mascots.

The Moe Moe Challenge Squad, a subgroup formed of the youngest members of the committee tasked with increasing the number of subway passengers, came up with the idea of giving a face to the subway network. And, as is usually the case in Japan, if you’re going to pick a face, it may as well be that of a cute anime schoolgirl, which is what led to the debut of Moe Uzumasa in 2011.

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Described as an earnest and energetic 17-year-old, Moe was soon joined by friends Saki Matsuga, an athletic member of her school’s track team, and the bespectacled guitarist Misa Ono, Moe’s childhood pal who she goes shopping with once a week (taking the subway, of course).

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While the characters appeared on pamphlets and prepaid subway cards, their popularity really began to soar after their designs were touched up by Kyoto-based illustrator Kamogawa, who brought them more in line with the aesthetics of contemporary Japanese animation.

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Moe and her friends are doing more than just aping the style of anime and manga, though. They’re actively helping to promote the art forms. The above animated clip of the three, all speaking in Kyoto dialect, features the voices of high schoolers Nana Hasegawa and Yui Tsukada as Moe and Saki, plus junior high student Mimori Tanigake as Misa. All three were the winners of a talent search done in conjunction with the Kyoto International Manga Anime Fair, yet another example of the cross-promoting the Kyoto subway system and annual otaku-oriented event engage in.

The subway’s spokescharacters have also teamed up with Miyu Karasuma, the mascot of the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

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So have Moe, Saki, and Misa saved the Kyoto Municipal Subway? It’s still too early to say, but in 2013, the most recent period for which statistics are available, ridership was up to 348,000 passengers a day, putting the subway in striking distance of its goal of 375,000 by 2018. In the meantime, if you’d like to keep up on Moe’s burgeoning career but don’t happen to have a Kyoto subway station near your home, you can check out her personal Facebook page here.

Source: Naver Matome
Top image: Kyoto City Web (1, 2) (edited by RocketNews24)
Insert images: Takara 777, Kyoto City Web (1, 2), Kyoto International Manga Museum, Kyoto City Web (3) (edited by RocketNews24)