Can an anthropomorphised prison wall really capture the heart of a child? 

Recently, our reporter Yuuichiro Wasi stopped by a kyoseiten in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. Kyoseiten, which literally translates to “correction exhibition“, are held in stations and other event spaces every now and then, and the items on display are actually for sale, and all made by prison inmates as part of a prison work and education program.

▼ 矯正展 = kyoseiten

Yuuichiro was surprised by the range of items on sale at the kyoseiten, with everything from bags, wallets and chopsticks available. However, one of the things that surprised him most was the selection of books and art goods aimed at children.

As he browsed the books, a children’s colouring book with a cute character design caught his eye.

▼ Who knew such a cute product was being made behind prison walls?

The character on the front was Akarenga-kun, with akarenga meaning “red brick” and “kun” being the suffix used for names of boys, male adults you’re close to, and male characters. Akarenga-kun is the mascot character of Chiba Prison, and is appropriately styled to look like a red brick wall, with a correctional officer’s hat.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s mascot character popularity poll, Akarenga-kun ranked 19th out of 74 characters, others of whom represent various government offices as well as a scattering of other prisons.

▼ So Akarenga-kun appears to be quite popular, despite essentially being an anthropomorphic prison wall.

As dad to an 18-month-old daughter, Yuuichiro wondered whether Akarenga-kun would have what it takes to capture her heart. Her favourite character at the moment is Anpanman, so he couldn’t be sure if she had room in her heart for a prison wall, but he decided to try it anyway, purchasing the colouring book and handing it to her when he got home.

He hoped to take a few photos of the book before she began colouring, but as soon as he released it into her possession, she had no interest at all in returning it.

▼ “Out of the way, Dad! I’ve got me some colouring to do!”

Yuuichiro tried to reason with her, saying “Hey, just let me take a couple of photos of the book first!” But she would have none of it.

▼ “Nooooo! Is mine!”

“You can play with it after I’ve taken the photos!” Yuuichiro continued, but now he was getting the silent treatment, as his daughter was busy familiarising herself with Akarenga-kun.

It was as if she was now off in her own world, and much more interested in Akarenga-kun than Yuuichiro.

Now there was no chance of him getting a picture, as her tiny hand was gripping the book with all her might as she ran off  to get some crayons.

After propping her up in her chair at the table, his daughter began to wield her crayons, laying down a series of wild, artistic strokes of colour on the paper. Yuuichiro now realised that Akarenga-kun really had succeeded in capturing the heart of his daughter, even without any backstory or animated visuals.

Admittedly, this was the first colouring book she’d ever received, so that could’ve added to the excitement, but as she added colour to the page, her eyes never strayed from Akarenga-kun.

Though Yuuichiro thought the colouring book was pretty stock standard, with 12 pages depicting Akarenga-kun taking part in various sports such as soccer and basketball, his daughter thought it was fantastic.

▼ And the work she produced was a wild explosion of unbridled art.

Who knew a prison mascot could be so captivating? The colouring book cost just 150 yen (US$1.03), making it a great deal for the level of entertainment it provided. While the kyoseiten at Shinjuku Station has since shut its doors, the site linked below has information on upcoming locations, with the next one scheduled for 9 and 10 December at Tokyo International Forum.

So if you’re in Tokyo at that time, you might want to stop by and see what’s on offer — Yuuichiro can also recommend trying the ramen noodles made by prison inmates.

Related: Ministry of Justice Character Grand Prix, Kyoseiten Location Information 
Photos © SoraNews24
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