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Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008

Make-my-day T-shirt craze gives unsung Fukuda belated celebrity


Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's public support was pretty weak for most of his roughly one year in office. But since announcing his resignation Monday, his popularity seems to be recovering — at least for T-shirts bearing his likeness.

News photo
Cashing in: Tomohiro Miyake, president of ClubT in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, wears a T-shirt depicting a gun-toting Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda that has been enjoying strong sales since Fukuda's decision to resign Monday. NATSUKO FUKUE PHOTO

The T-shirt, bearing a rough sketch of an angry Fukuda pointing two pistols and shouting, "I am not like you!" — has been selling online by the thousands since Tuesday. The words are Fukuda's own, uttered at the press conference for the surprise announcement.

The comment erupted after a reporter questioned whether Fukuda had put his all into his job.

Agitated, Fukuda replied: "Well, I am capable of observing myself very objectively. I am not like you!"

Fukuda doesn't usually show his emotions, but it was clear at this point that he had lost his patience. The media pounced on this part of the press conference, and clips of the episode appeared on YouTube and other Web sites.

The remark also generated a buzz on 2channel, the popular Japanese Internet forum. At one point came an anonymous posting of a digital caricature of Fukuda stating the now famous line, but with guns in his hands. Such illustrations, made with ASCII characters, are common on 2channel.

Tokyo-based T-shirt company ClubT acted quickly to obtain the image and started marketing the T-shirt the next day.

According to ClubT President Tomohiro Miyake, the Fukuda T-shirt is already the most popular of its 800,000 T-shirt designs, which are all made by individuals registered with its Web site.

Miyake declined to reveal how many Fukuda T-shirts had been sold, but hinted it is outselling one designed after a T-shirt worn by Kosuke Kitajima, the breaststroke swimmer who won two gold medals at the Beijing Olympics last month.

Sales of the Kitajima T-shirt peaked when the swimmer won the first of his two golds, Miyake said.

"We believe that Fukuda beat the gold medal," he said.

ClubT also has been marketing a T-shirt depicting Taro Aso, the lawmaker seen as most likely to succeed Fukuda, since last year. But the Aso shirt is less popular, he said.

Miyake said the firm may consider taking orders for T-shirts bearing other LDP candidates once their candidacies have been decided and if someone comes up with good designs of their faces.

"I hear that in the United States, companies making presidential campaign items reveal their sales to show who's winning," Miyake said. "We're thinking about making a similar list of which prime minister candidates sold most."

The Fukuda T-shirt had three designs and 40 to 50 color patterns as of Friday. Prices range from ¥1,995 to ¥2,415.



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