Play

Gudetama is an egg-yolk with arms and legs and a little butt that spends its day being lazy and melancholic.

It sounds strange and a little half-boiled, yet this little egg yolk, made by Sanrio, the Japanese company behind Hello Kitty, has spread like wildfire across Japan and become a cultural phenomenon. According to the video above, not only does it have its own range of products, like lunch-boxes, clothes, bags and plush toys, it even has its own themed cafe and an airplane.

The name Gudetama, we’re told, comes from the Japanese phrase “gude gude” (lazy) and “tama” (egg). So Gudetama literally means lazy egg, a name that it more than lives up to. It is also riddled with a certain despondence and existentialist angst which add to its personality. Its catchphrases: “Can I go home now?”, “I seriously can’t,” and “I’m too lazy.” The little egg-yolk is often portrayed in moments when it’s too lazy to be eaten, to get out of its (egg) shell or to even sneeze.

How did Gudetama come about? It was at a company-wide competition at Sanrio, where participants were asked to create a food-based character. Gudetama came in second, after a salmon fillet named Kirimichan. The company released products for both, where Gudetama emerged a clear cut-winner, an anomaly for its character.

Play

Think you can relate to Gudetama’s personality? That seems to be the main reason behind its popularity, across ages. The quirky character is grumpy, too, quite like millennials, who are burdened with stress and social pressure to a point where they’re apathetic and riddled with ennui. Its popular catchphrase, “Can I go home now?” is also reflective of the generation’s preference for staying at home to “Netflix-and-chill”, instead of going out.

In Japan, this specific trait may go even deeper, where a strange phenomenon called hikikomori became prevalent a few years ago, which saw more than half a million reclusive youngsters shunning the company of people and locking themselves indoors. They refused to leave their houses and avoided all social contact.

In 2010, an estimated 700,000 youngsters were in a state of hikikomori, though the number dropped to about 540,000 in 2016. It is an unexplained phenomenon, with no specific cause or reason being identified, though it is regarded as a “culture-bound syndrome” by some psychiatrists.

Japan is often associated with its love for consumerism and its outlandish fads such as kawaii. Sanrio’s characters are an amalgamation of both. However, it appears that these trends and this socio-cultural seasoning stem from something much deeper. Japan, while being consumeristic and superficial, also has a deep-rooted social structure which runs on tradition and authority. The video above attributes the superficiality to years of trauma and stress induced by the World War II and the atomic bombing. Thus, what may appear as silly, cultural icons like Gudetama have an interesting role to play in our lives.