Backlash against Onsen Musume Project prompts a slinging match between feminists and otaku.

In Japan, a lot of real-world objects and places have been anthropomorphised into anime characters, creating perfect opportunities for promotional tie-ups and collaborations. One project, for instance, has transformed major hot spring areas in Japan into Onsen Musume, cute goddesses who also act as idols, competing with and against each other to become the best idol group in the country.

The Onsen Musume Project — endorsed as a Cool Japan company by the Cabinet Office to help promote tourism — has been working to revitalise hot spring regions since 2016, encouraging fans to travel to various hot springs to buy merchandise and see their favourite idols in 2-D form.

▼ Some of the Onsen Musume characters

Hot spring towns can decide whether to use the characters to promote themselves, but it can be a tough call to make, given that some members of the public oppose the way young girls are depicted in anime.

▼ One hot spring town currently dealing with backlash over its involvement in an Onsen Musume collaboration is Yubara Onsen in Okayama Prefecture.

Stores and individuals in the area have become the target of harassment, prompting Yubara Onsen officials to address the issue publicly on Twitter, bringing to light some of the criticism they’ve received.

The above tweet reads:

“Regarding comments etc on social media:

There have been instances of prank calls, malicious word-of-mouth, insults, and discrimination against participating stores and individuals. If this continues, we will consult with a lawyer and take legal action in regards to obstructing business and defamation.

Please have fun while taking netiquette seriously.”

Upon hearing the news, fans of Onsen Musume began to hurl negative comments back at those who may have taken umbrage against the collaboration, with a lot of anger being fired at feminists and others who have been known to speak out against anime as a form of child exploitation and objectification.

In response, Yubara Onsen officials appeared to send out a call for peace, with another tweet later that evening.

The tweet above reads:

“Regarding this uproar, we do not want fans to make immoderate remarks or social sanctions, as we will proceed with objections through the appropriate unions and associations of Yubara Onsen.

We appreciate your understanding and cooperation.”

It didn’t stop the flame wars online, though, as Onsen Musume continued to be a trending topic on social media, with people arguing for and against the anime collaboration. Fans would no doubt be fearing a repeat of the incident that occurred in Shizuoka Prefecture last year, when promotional materials featuring a Love Live! character were removed from a shopping mall after complaints were made about the see-through nature of her skirt.

▼ Last year’s controversial anime collaboration.

Back then, though, fans set up a petition to keep the collaboration alive, and reports claimed that the agricultural group behind the partnership was also keen to continue using the character. Now, it appears that Yubara Onsen is also doubling down on its own collaboration, threatening legal action against those who use unscrupulous means to oppose it.

While there are valid points to be made on both sides of the fence, Yubara Onsen, like many other onsen towns in Japan right now, has been doing it tough during the coronavirus pandemic, and is no doubt putting survival of the town, and the businesses and families who live there, at the top of their priorities at the moment.

Which is understandable, when you consider these other longstanding public bathing facilities that have had to close their doors due to the dramatic drop in visitors over the past two years.

Sources: Onsen Musume, Twitter/@yubarasawaJin, Hachima Kikou 
Featured image: Pakutaso
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