Japan has a very visual culture—not only in the prevalence of manga, which makes up almost half of all publishing sales in Japan—but also in their language, where kanji often resemble the actions or objects they are intended to symbolize, and also in the cartoon characters that permeate many aspects of life in Japan.
Hello, Please! seeks to provide a chronicle, a catalog of these characters as they appear on signs, packages, and brochures. Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda divide the characters by who/what they represent: Official Characters, which represent organizations like police departments, the military, and transportation systems; Instructional Characters, which offer how-to inside instructional manuals and the like; Warning Characters, which tell people what NOT to do in public and life; Advertising Characters, which appear on posters and product packaging; and Food Characters, which appear on food packaging but could also promote healthy eating habits and other food-related issues.
Each of these categories is explained in a brief introduction, which ties the cartoon characters to Shinto animism and other traditional Japanese cultural beliefs. But aside from the introduction the text inside is minimal, with each page taken up entirely by the photos of these characters in the wild, with a small caption in the corner to explain what it is we’re looking at.
The design of the book isn’t perfect; there are no page numbers for most of the book, making the individual sections hard to locate, and a few of the captions encompass more than one page but that isn’t always clear at a first glance. The book also feels as if its going to detach from the spine, though on closer inspection of the binding I don’t think it will.
Overall this book is highly informative in different ways: it can be an intriguing look into the Japanese mindset and culture (I for one, did not know that it is believed that catfish can predict earthquakes), or a good primer on advertising and character design. While it is not comprehensive, it does provide a good starting point.
written and photographed by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda
designed by Alice Chau
published by Chronicle Books (San Francisco, 2007)