Kumamiko – Girl Meets Bear is the story of a shy, sheltered young girl and her wish to see the world outside her small rural town. As part of her introduction to the modern world, she is shown things and visits places that seem alien to her. Of course these are all mundane things and places that are familiar to everyone in Japan. Well, maybe not everyone…
Part of the humor in Kumamiko lies in the main character’s–Machi’s–ignorance of everyday things that most people in Japan take for granted. However, a lot of these jokes rely on the viewing audience knowing what Machi is oblivious about. Here’s a little guide to anyone who found that the gags went over their heads.
*Note: This article contains mild spoilers for certain episodes of Kumamiko – Girl Meets Bear.
Suika: In the first episode, Machi is told she must pass a quiz to be allowed to go to school in the city. One of the questions asks, “What can you use to go through the automatic turnstiles in stations?” The answers are, 1: Suica (Watermelon) 2: Ringo (Apple) 3: Banana. The joke is a word play on the IC pass cards used primarily by the JR (Japan Railway) lines.
Called, “Suica” (short for “Super Urban Intelligent CArd”), the cards were intentionally named to be a homonym with the Japanese word for watermelon. The joke in the series relies on Machi’s ignorance of the fact that for most people, the word “Suica” means not only the vegetable, but also a commonly used IC card.
Photo: Two things that share the same name.
Uni Qlo, Heattech: Uni Qlo (pronounced, “yoo-nee koo-low”) is a massive clothing chain in Japan. Well known for its “generic” clothing image, the chain offers high quality clothing for affordable costs. In 2006, the store introduced a new line of inner clothing called Heattech. The new line boasted superior thermal retention ability in a non-bulky form. The clothing brand became such a sensation that it is recognizable to most city dwellers simply by name alone.
In Kumamiko, one of the jokes is that when Machi is told to “go to Uni Qlo and buy a Heattech,” while she knows that a Uni Qlo is, she is unable to figure out what a Heattech is, eventually coming to the conclusion that it must be some kind of (potentially explosive) heating device.
Photo: One of Uni Qlo’s stores. Sadly, as it is currently entering summer, Heattech clothing is not on display to photograph.
Shimamura: Called “Shimomura” in the series, probably because they didn’t get permission to use its real name, Shimamura is a chain of clothing stores famously recognized as a “fast food” clothing store. The store offers a casual atmosphere and a robust inventory. One of the jokes in Kumamiko lies in Machi’s almost absurd level of knowledge about the store chain and its inner workings.
Photos: One of Shimamura’s stores.
Village Vanguard: A chain of book/novelty item stores. The inside of a Village Vanguard can be described as a stew of random items and insanity, or, as said in Kumamiko, “a witch’s store.” Village Vanguard’s own company principles are summed up as such:
“We offer a unique space that has never been seen before, called Village Vanguard. Our customers will forever request that this one-and-only space continues to evolve beautifully, and strongly. We cannot stop. People are expecting us.” (rough translation)
I’d go on, but I’ll let the photos taken from my local branch speak for themselves:
Photos: Inside an otherworldly portal.
Kumamiko offers a cute story of a naïve young girl and her adventures learning about Japanese city life with her talking bear. Hopefully, this will help educate viewers not in the know so they too can enjoy her confusion.
Kumamiko – Girl Meets Bear can be viewed with English subtitles at FUNimation.