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To be honest, the first time I saw Moomin in Japan, I thought he was a hippo. Hippo or no, depending on which part of the world you’re from, you might not have heard of Moomin. Regrettably, I indeed had not heard of Moomin until moving to Japan. But now I’m the proud owner of a Moomin mug, one little Moomin stuffed animal, and even a Moomin paper diorama.
In this article, we’ll take a look at Moomin’s origins, how Moomin ended up in Japan, and why Moomin is so popular in Japan.
What is Moomin?
Moomin is a character created by Tove Jansson, a beloved Finnish writer and illustrator. Originally called Mumintroll in Swedish, Moomin is, well, a troll. (No, Moomin is not a hippopotamus. My bad.)
Some of the more popular Moomin characters in Japan are as follows.
- Moomin: the title character, called Moomin in both English and Japanese. A big, white, friendly-looking troll.
- Little My: In Japanese, this character is sometimes called Chibi-no-Mi (ちびのミイ) or just transliterated as Little My (リトルミイ). While I might be misremembering, some of my Japanese friends seem to call her My-chan. Little My is human-like and often appears alone on pouches, handkerchiefs, mugs, and other products aimed at women. (As a side note, I’m not clear on if she is exactly human.)
- Snork Maiden: In Japanese, this character seems to have multiple names. The official Moomin website states that she has variously been called “Snork Ojosan (Maiden)” (スノークのおじょうさん), “Snork Girl” (スノークの女の子), and “Snork Maiden” (transliterated from English, スノークメイデン). However, it also states she used to be called Fräulein (フローレン). Whatever her name, like Moomin, she is also a big, white, friendly-looking troll.
- Snufkin: This character goes by Snufkin (スナフキン) in Japanese as well. Much like Little My, he looks more human-like than the Moomins.
Many other Moomin characters appear on Moomin products in Japan, but the above are the ones I see the most.
How Did Moomin Come to Japan?
While Jansson had created iterations of Moomin prior, the first official Moomin book was reportedly published in 1945.
I couldn’t find exactly when the Moomin books were first published in Japan. However, it seems most people in Japan first encountered Moomin through the 1969 anime, which ran on Fuji TV. Japan went on to produce several other animated TV shows and movies based on the Moomin universe.
Interestingly, the original 1969 anime wasn’t well-liked by Jansson. In this anime, the characters used money to buy goods, drove cars, got drunk, and did other city-folk things. Many of the characters’ traits and even names changed! In Finnish media, they felt it was aimed more at adults than children.
Fortunately, the later anime productions seemed to stick more closely to the source material and were reportedly more well-received in Finland.
Skipping ahead to more modern days, excitingly, you can find a Moomin Cafe in Tokyo where you can have tea with giant stuffed animals of your favorite Moomin characters. But sadly, it seems this café will be closing early 2023.
So instead, you’ll want to check out Moominvalley Park in Saitama, which is a theme park that opened in 2019. Here, you can explore Moomin’s home and meet all your favorite Moomin characters.
Why Is Moomin Popular in Japan?
First things first, there’s no disputing Moomin is popular in Japan. Moomin reportedly has a brand recognition of 86% across the 15-79 age group in Japan, which is around the same as Pokemon.
But to answer the question “why” is trickier. Some may point to the “kawaii” (cuteness) culture of Japan. However, Professor Hyung Gu Lynn of the University of British Columbia thinks this is too simplistic, and I tend to agree.
For one, Moomin has slowly but surely built brand recognition across several types of media, including anime, books, character goods, and in-person attractions.
In addition, Moominvalley depicts peaceful characters in an idyllic landscape. Thus, many people in Japan likely see parallels between the Moomin world and “old Japan.” It may also be getting a boost from the Japanese fascination with the concept of “hygge” (Danish word that evokes coziness, etc.) and the Scandinavian aesthetic. To back this up, Takumi Nakayama from Moomin’s licensing agent in Japan states, “While the Moomins’ values are universal, there is much in the brand’s origins and in Finnish culture and way of living that is of interest to Japanese fans.”
One other factor linking to the Scandinavian aesthetic angle could be that Moomin goes beyond “cuteness” and into “art.” There’s a certain sophistication to the Moomin art, and Moomin products in Japan definitely seem to lean into that.
The cuteness, wide media spread, Japan-Scandinavia link, and Moomin as art may all point to why Moomin is so popular in Japan.
Are You a Moomin Fan?
Did you know about Moomin before coming to Japan? And are you a Moomin fan? Let us know your first memories of Moomin in the comments!
Moomins Multiplied: How Finnish art became popular in Japan
Moomin Grows Presence in Japan