Verona Public Library reference librarian Mark Cullen

Mark Cullen

The Tokyo Olympics ended last month. While we are all aware that skateboarding made its debut as an official Olympic event, what most of us probably do not recognize is the Wisconsin literary connection to that very moment when 13-year old Momiji Nishiya captured the gold medal.

She and a teammate were quietly chatting about the historic victory, when they overheard the theme song to the 1977 animated television series: Araiguma Rascal. It took them a moment to identify it, because their generation did not grow up watching this show.

The hugely popular 52-episode series is based on a 1963 Newberry Honor children’s novel by Sterling North. It depicts a colorful year in the life of the Wisconsin author when he adopted a baby raccoon as a young boy. If you are interested in reading it, the Verona Public Library has three copies.

One internationally recognized animator got his start on this show. Hayao Miyazaki is described as the Walt Disney of Japan. It is plausible to assume that if Rascal had never been written, there would be no Ponyo, no Kiki’s Delivery Service, and no My Neighbor Totoro.

Some have even suggested that Pokémon owes a verifiable debt to Rascal. Although Rascal was written nearly 60 years ago, the theme of an adorable animal familiar still resonates with audiences in its various permutations.

Before the show began, Japanese animators visited Edgerton on a scouting mission for inspiration. Many of the community’s historic buildings are faithfully and charmingly represented, including the author’s boyhood home, which has become a public museum.

Every year, about 30 Japanese travelers make an anime pilgrimage to see where it all began. Some of them become overwhelmed and very emotional. It is not unusual to see them cry as they reconnect to their own nostalgic remembrances.

In tribute, a large amount of Rascal-themed gifts manufactured in Japan have been given to the museum by the travelers/pilgrims. The Japanese adore mascots. In addition to learning about Sterling North, visitors to the museum will also gain an instant appreciation for how the robust Japanese marketing machinery makes a stylized Wisconsin raccoon highly visible on everything from pencils to toilet paper!

It should be noted that within two hours after winning the gold medal, a graphic designer from Nippon Animation created the very first skateboarding Rascal as a congratulatory Tweet. Rascal gets around. Rascal is still getting around in more ways than one …

During the height of the Rascal craze, about 1,400 raccoons per month were exported to Japan. Many people wanted to experience living with a raccoon because television makes it look totally doable and fun, right? But, when it became apparent that living in close quarters with a wild animal does not really work, many raccoons were released, or escaped.

Today, almost every prefecture in Japan is affected by this invasive species. Crops and temples are being damaged, and native species are being forced out by this North American interloper. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing problem with no immediate solution.

Skateboarding, like Karaoke and Rascal, were invented in the United States. Working in a library, and living in a bilingual home with a Japanese native, I have always found it interesting to witness global connections and the ways that things and ideas get imported, repurposed, and/or reinvigorated.

Life on this planet is connected in ways we may not always fully understand. Our knowledge can only grow as we peer into these connections.

Thanks for tagging along with me on this Wisconsin-Japan connection!

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