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Tokyo - Japan's Fukushima Industries on Tuesday blamed a “misunderstanding” as the Internet erupted in sniggers over its “Fukuppy” mascot, a name that recalls a catalogue of mishandling at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The Osaka-based refrigerator maker, whose name derives from its founder and has nothing to do with the area hit by an atomic catastrophe, has been much ridiculed on social networking sites for its egg-like mascot with blue wings and red feet.
“I'm Fukuppy. Nice to meet you,” the smiling character with a human face tells visitors to the company's website. “I think I'm kind with a strong sense of justice but people say I'm a little bit scatterbrained.”
A company spokeswoman, who declined to be named, said: “A lot of media are reporting (on) our mascot, which created misunderstanding. In order to get rid of the confusion, we will announce our stance on the issue on our website later in the day.”
The firm would not comment on why they chose the intriguing moniker or whether they had considered how it might be rendered in other languages.
One of Japan's biggest makers of industrial cooling systems, Fukushima Industries has offices around the country as well as across Asia, including in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The firm said the name was nothing to do with the Fukushima disaster, the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, although the company has a sales office in Fukushima prefecture.
The clean-up at Fukushima, where reactors flung radioactive substances into the air, soil and sea in the days and weeks after it was hit by the March 2011 tsunami, has been beset with problems, and continues to come under the international spotlight.
A series of leaks of radiation-contaminated water over recent months, which came on top of a power outage caused by a stray rat, have added to the impression that the plant's operator is hapless.
As the name of the broken nuclear plant, “Fukushima” has come to worldwide attention, but it is also a family name, the characters for which mean “fortunate (or good) island”.
The name “Fukuppy” is likely a mixture of the first part of the company name - Fuku - and the end of the word “happy”.
It is common for companies and organisations in Japan to have a cuddly mascot character that is used as part of branding. Many are brought to life by adults in full-size costumes who wander around sponsored events.
In September, Asahikawa Prison in Japan's far north unveiled “Katakkuri-chan”, a nearly two-metre (6ft 6ins) humanoid with a huge square face and an enormous purple flower for hair, that bosses hoped would soften the image of the jail.
Tokyo Metropolitan Police has had its own crime-fighting mascot since the 1980s, who is now well-loved across the nation.
The use of English, or English-derived words, is also very common in Japan, but despite many years of compulsory language schooling, standards remain relatively low.
This leads to occasional hilarity among visitors to the country, who struggle to understand why someone would drink the unappetising-sounding Pocari Sweat or the off-putting Calpis.
Bizarre phrases born of poorly-understood English lessons frequently make their way onto t-shirts, stationery and into advertising copy.
However, it is not all one-way traffic, and many Japanese look askance at the ill-formed or inappropriate Chinese characters, also used in the Japanese writing system, that some Western youngsters have tattooed on their bodies. - Sapa-AFP