I recently got a pingback on a seriously ancient post of mine about a visit to Sanwa, the local restaurant that is famous for its Hakata Salt Ramen. I followed the pingback to an excellent post by Cardcaptor. I liked it, so I submitted it to JapanSoc – get over there and SOC IT! It basically shows the progression of an internet meme born of a weird catchphrase on a TV commercial – a man simply barking out the product name,「伯方の塩」 (Hakata no Shio), in a staccato manner. The users of Nico Nico Douga (a Japanese YouTube competitor for which you may want to sign up to fully enjoy that post) ramped up the crazy and turned Hakata Salt into a sprite-like mascot character named 伯方さん or Hakata-san – a play on the homophone 伯方産 (made in Hakata), probably, a.k.a. シオたん, or Shio-tan. Tan is a shortened, cutesy, feminine vernacular form of the suffix chan for familiars, commonly used in “moe anthropomorphism,” by the way. Cardcaptor links to the relevant Wikipedia entries, and generally covers Nico Nico Douga stuff over there, so make sure to visit.
Hakata Salt is a bit of a fraud in that it’s merely packaged in the area (not even actually on Hakatajima so much – it’s done on the neighboring island of Omishima at a bigger factory), but it is actually imported from Mexico. It shocked me too, when I first discovered it. Laws around here made it illegal for the company to continue to pull salt from the sea at the rate they were going, I guess. Makes it hard to expand business. So yeah, high quality Mexican salt is being packaged with the map of a totally unrelated Japanese island and being sold as a local product here. (This is not a secret, nor is it illegal like the various foods being sold as Japanese when they were in fact imported from China, by the way. A foodstuff company in Matsuyama, the capital of this prefecture, went down for that crime last year after the gyoza scare and the related fallout.)
That’s sort of the long way of explaining why the character is wearing Mexican garb. She was born in Mexico and ostensibly raised in Japan – probably on my island. As you might guess, as Cardcaptor pointed out, the internet has decided to hypersexualize the character pretty fast, deciding that she wears nothing under her poncho.* I’ve chosen a few fan-made family-friendly versions of Shio-tan that I found by following a link via Cardcaptor to the Nico Nico Douga thread about Hakata no Shio. I will, however, include a totally absurd video of Shio-tan dancing to a techno remix of the slogan. Watch a few seconds and you’ve basically watched the whole video. The guy in the background is yelling 「伯方！伯方！伯方！端たない！」(Hakata! Hakata! Hakata! Hashitanai!). Hashitanai roughly translates as “vulgar, unladylike, rude, immodest.” As far as I can tell, it’s a joke about the character not covering up appropriately. I’m not particularly bothered by her not wearing anything – she’s supposed to be a sprite, or a 妖精 (yousei) after all. I was never bothered that various American toons never wore pants either.
* – interesting note about the more perverted pics: it seems to be a running gag to add a false scroll bar to pictures that cut off just before any naughty bits. (I use Firefox on Mac OS X or Ubuntu, though, so I didn’t [and wouldn't] bite for the joke – my scroll bars are blatantly different from the fakes.) It’s sort of a weird internet joke like Rick-rolling or FAIL banners in English speaking forums. Designed to frustrate people so that you might enjoy a bit of semi-pathetic schadenfreude. Just thought I’d mention it. Curious. And creepy, sure.