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    His round face, bright red nose, rosy cheeks and infectious smile will have beamed out at you from TV screens, billboards and supermarket shelves the length and breadth of the country. He and his seemingly endless cast of food-based friends will have waved back at you from TV commercials, shopping centers, public libraries and doctor’s offices.

    In the crowded and competitive world of Japanese cartoon characters, Anpanman is king. He stands astride a commercial empire worth an estimated ¥100 billion to ¥120 billion in annual revenue, and holds licensing agreements with around 70 different companies.

    He has sold 79 million copies of his picture book series, and has just celebrated the 30th anniversary of his TV show, “Soreike! Anpanman,” on Nippon TV.

    Not bad for a superhero with an anpan (bean jam-filled pastry) for a head.

    “Some children can say Anpanman’s name even if they’ve never seen the TV show or books,” Rika Kataoka, managing director of the licensing department of rights holder NTVM, says ahead of the Oct. 3 anniversary of “Soreike! Anpanman,” which airs every Friday at 10:55 a.m. “Either their friends have Anpanman things, or their kindergarten or nursery has them. It’s a fact that kids can’t avoid knowing who Anpanman is.”

    Anpanman was created by illustrator Takashi Yanase, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 94, and first appeared in the “Kinder Story” monthly magazine for kindergartens in 1973.

    Yanase came up with the idea of a just and true superhero who helps people in need by breaking off pieces of his face to give to them to eat. These acts of kindness weaken Anpanman’s strength and impair his ability to fly, but fortunately his on-screen creator, master baker Uncle Jam, can replenish it by baking him a fresh head in his oven.


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