Years ago at the Sunday Morning Market at the Tatehana Wharf, reports and sightings began of a strange character walking around. A giant squid was said to be walking around on legs, dressed in Japanese clothing, and with strange markings on its face. Although people were puzzled and mysterious abounded, thankfully the creature had a name tag pinned to its chest announcing its name to the world: Ikadon.
Since then, Ikadon has become the unofficial mascot of the famous Sunday morning market of Hachinohe, and in some ways for the city as a whole. On most market mornings you can see Ikadon strolling up and down the lanes, and everywhere he goes he leaves a trail of bewildered smile and laughs. A true fixture of the city’s culture, for many Hachinohe people his presence there is now part of what makes the Sunday market “the market”, and there’s nothing strange about it. When visitors see him for the first time though, there remains quite an element of shock.
So, what does it all mean? First, the name of the character, ikadon, and his costume are references to squid (ika in Japanese), which is one of the pillars of the fishing industry of the city. In the past, Hachinohe caught the most squid in all of Japan, and presently it still numbers in the top spots. The strange eyebrow design found on its face are the Japanese characters for ‘Hachinohe’ and the markings on its forehead is the Japanese character for ‘port’. Thus, everything about the character’s costume and design exudes Hachinohe and references its culture.
Ikadon was created one day by an ordinary but inspired Hachinohe person, who went home and designed the character himself and then set about handmaking the whole costume. Its designer wanted something to reinvigorate and support the Hachinohe community, he wanted to make something that would make people excited and proud of their city; the fruits of his passion was Ikadon. Unlike the ‘official city mascots’ of Hachinohe and other cities in Japan that are only present at special festivals and promotional events, the ‘unofficial mascot’ Ikadon was made directly for the people and is out mingling with the crowds on Sunday mornings, stopping to take pictures with everyone and handing out candy to children.
And maybe that is why the character is so popular. The enthusiasm and pride that one regular person in the community has resonated with other people that are passionate about the city and the Ikadon’s slightly weird and bizarre presentation mesh well with Hachinohe’s offbeat culture, which has always been a bit different when compared to other Japanese cities.
One thing is for sure though, Ikadon is here to stay and that’s the way the locals like. The character’s story has expanded so now there is a family of Ikadon with a Papa Ikadon, Mama Ikadon, Daughter Ikadon, and there is even Ikadon merchandise like tote-bags and folders. All this attention and fame hasn’t gone to Ikadon’s head though, and he still makes his rounds of the market most Sundays. So if you are fortunate enough to see this community symbol during your trip to the morning market, make sure you stop and ask for a picture like the locals do too. You might just find yourself surprisingly becoming a quick fan of this quirky and bizarre local ‘unofficial mascot.’