Perhaps the most photographed and recognizable neon sign in Japan is the Glico Man, a picture of a runner crossing a finish line with his arms raised. seen from the Ebisubashi Bridge at Dotonbori in Osaka.
The sprinter’s brilliance is that he conjures up the company’s caramel-sweet catchphrase “Three hundred meters in one go”, which suggests that those who eat you can run that distance.
Why 300 meters? The distance corresponds to the number of calories on the candy.
Riichi Ezaki (1882-1980), the founder of Glico, believed that food and play were essential to a healthy childhood. With this belief in mind, he added glycogen extracted from oysters to caramel and began selling what we would now call an energy product in 1922.
He sold it in a crisp red box that came with a small toy.
Dotonbori refers to a canal, a street running parallel to it, and the general entertainment district in the heart of Osaka. Its history dates back to 1612 when Yasui Doton (1533-1615) and his partners began building the canal.
Unfortunately, Doton was killed during the siege of Osaka, where the Tokugawa shogunate put an end to the Toyotomi clan. Although it died before its completion, the canal got its name after its completion in 1615.
The waterway became a popular and lucrative trade route, and the government designated Dotonbori as an entertainment district, which soon featured several kabuki and ningyo-joruri puppet theaters.
Bars and pubs sprang up, theater-goers and party-goers flocked to the area. Today it is a place to eat, shop, and entertain until you drop.
Unlike their fellow countrymen in Kyoto and Tokyo, Osaka residents are not known for restraint, especially when it comes to their local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers. In 1985, when their favorite team won the Japan Series, fans went wild and jumped into the Dotonbori Channel.
Then they were swept away and also a statue of the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken was literally swept away and thrown into the canal. After that, the team didn’t win what became known as “The Curse of Colonel Sanders” for 18 years.
No trip to Dotonbori is complete without some typical Osaka food like “okonomiyaki” cabbage pancakes, “takoyaki” squid balls and “kushi-katsu” kebabs.
Every time I go to Dotonbori and look up at the Glico sprinter, I am reminded that food and play are the keys to a good life for children – and all of us. It is allowed to indulge in “kuidaore” (ruining yourself with extravagant food) and “asobi” (playing) to your heart’s content.
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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the October 31st issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series “Lisa’s Wanderings Around Japan”, which shows different locations around the country from the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.