Japan’s muscular embodiment of human kindness pays a visit to a small town in Chiba.

When you ask people what their favorite things about Japan are, you’re sure to get a lot of answers such as the food, customer service, and unique history.

But for me, it’s got to be the well-established custom in which for at least the last 10 years (30 by some accounts) men and women of all ages have engaged in a series of random acts of generosity all over the country, and all in the name of a semi-fictitious professional wrestler.

Naoto Date, or his stage name “Tiger Mask” in the original manga and anime series by the same name, are the pseudonyms often left at orphanages on top of piles of leather school bags valued at tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of US dollars) each.

▼ A 2019 news report of a school bag full of supplies, donated by “Naoto Date” to an orphanage in Muroran, Hokkaio. Also included was a letter apologizing because his “fight money was small” and he could only afford one bag per year.

Although a few people have come forward as Tiger Masks in the past, these anonymous donations have been the work of an untold number of Japanese people over the years. In that way, Tiger Mask is a modern folk hero whose story is being written by anyone who chooses to become him.

A recent example happened in the small town of Tako in Chiba Prefecture. Chiba currently has the sixth highest number of COVID-19 cases in Japan, and areas such as Tako were only months ago badly hit by a typhoon, leaving widespread damage and stopping electric and water service for days.

▼ A September 2019 report on Typhoon Faxai’s effects, featuring Tako

So, it was an especially pleasant surprise when a package arrived at the Tako municipal office which contained 55 handmade face masks and instructions to “please give them to all staff, and don’t try to find us.” The masks came in two sizes and colors and one even had the town name stitched onto it.

The message was signed “Tiger Masko” using the kanji character “ko” (子) meaning “child” and often used at the end of women’s first names like Michiko or Aiko. This is because this particular Tiger Mask was a team of four unidentified seamstresses (ohariko in Japanese) both from and formerly from Tako.

Of course, a Tiger Mask by any other name is just as sweet, and netizens were very encouraged to hear that the spirit lives on, especially in these trying times.

“I love Tiger Masko!!”
“You did it again, Tiger Masko (lol)!”
“It’s awesome, but I am a tiny bit disappointed that they didn’t make tiger masks.”
“I love the name. It sounds like the next generation of Tiger Mask.”
“I wonder if there’s a Tiger Masuo too?”
“That’s really wonderful, but I’d probably pass on the ones with “TAKO” written across the front.”

“Tako” is also the Japanese word for “octopus” but the town’s name is easily distinguished by its kanji characters (多古). However, when written in English letters, a Japanese person’s first instinct when seeing “TAKO” is probably the tentacled sea creature, so you can understand why it might be less desired.

Still, you shouldn’t look a gift octopus in the mouth and neither did the civil servants of Tako. Office head Tadashi Takahashi told Chiba TV “I was worried at first because there was no return address, but when I looked inside I was blown away. Our staff are mostly left to find our own masks so this is a big help.”

Some were concerned about the safety of accepting handmade face masks from anonymous sources. But since the government issued masks have been coming out full of bugs, comically undersized, or not at all depending on where you live, I’m more than willing to take my chances with Tiger Masko. It’s simply a name you can trust.

Source: Chiba TV, Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/maxpollas
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