Masked Avengers Doing Good In Japan

A 40-year-old manga starring a mask-wearing wrestler is inspiring Japan to do good. Only, they are dishing out presents instead of punches. Rwar.

This holiday season, child welfare facilities around Japan were inundated with anonymous gifts under the name of "Naoto Date", the hero of retro manga and anime Tiger Mask.

Tiger Mask followed the adventures of a tiger mask-wearing professional wrestler who grew up in an orphanage and tries to do good. In Japan, the character is iconic, even inspiring video game characters like tiger-faced "King" in the Tekken video games.

The goodwill began on Christmas Day when a set of 10 leather school backpacks, each typically costing several hundred dollars, was given to a Tokyo child welfare centre. The mysterious donor used the name "Naoto Date".

Many of the children housed in welfare centres grow up in abusive homes, with parents failing to care for their children or even teach them basic things like how to brush their teeth. Good-hearted people volunteer time to take the kids to sports events, and some restaurants even provide them with free meals.

But the news coverage resulted in an outpouring of interest and donations to other child welfare centres - and not all from Naoto Date. Earlier this week, a children's nursing home in Okayama received boxes of backpacks and dumplings with a note that read: "Your hero Momotaro, not Naoto Date." Momotaro, or "Peach Boy", is a character from Japanese folklore.

Other donations were made under the name Joe Yabuki from boxing manga Ashita no Joe, Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Haruhi Suzumiya from the Haruhi light novels, Ultraman's father, Kamen Rider, Lupin the Third and Date Masamune from Japanese history and, more recently, the Sengoku Basara video games.

Gifts vary from school backpacks to Hayao Miyazaki movies to pencils, stationary and erasers. One donation included ¥200,000 ($2400) of gift certificates, while another centre received an envelope stuffed with the equivalent of approximately $US1,200. As of Wednesday, the gifts include over 350 backpacks and over ¥10 million ($120,000) in cash were donated, with Japanese orphanages reporting 290 donations across the country.

It was originally believed that the mysterious donors were largely senior citizens, but there are reports people in their 30s making donations as well as students even chipping in what little cash or goods they can offer.

The anonymous masks of these characters could be making it easier for ordinary Japanese, who might feel hesitant or reluctant to openly donate, to muster up the courage to give to kids who really need it. Or the movement itself could merely be PR to show just how easy it is to give charity, vigilante-style.

A "Naoto Date" note at one child care centre in Saitama Prefecture sums it up: "I was inspired by the movement and decided to take part in it." Let's hope these Tiger Masks are inspired next year, too.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome - game related and beyond.

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