Road construction isn't what I would call "cute". It's hard work. Dangerous. Sweaty. There's nothing cute about that. Japan, however, might beg to differ.
Yes, Japanese construction workers are a tough and serious lot. The construction sites, though, often have signs with little anime style characters bowing and asking to pardon any trouble the construction is causing.
Traditionally, the barricades are rather vanilla: pipes connected to a dull-looking plastic stand. However, around 2006, a construction equipment rental company called Sendaimeiban began collaborating with Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido to make "character barricades" that could be placed at roadside construction sites and be seen by buses of tourists.
First up was a monkey. It was a hit, so Sendaimeiban started expanding across Japan. And now in 2013, you can see often at road construction sites! Below is a photo I took earlier this year:
As noted by website Naver, there are several theories why the anime style animal characters are popular. One is that they have a calming effect and can, thus, reduce road rage.
Another theory is that these cute barricades help improve Japanese people's impressions of construction sites — that they're a softener of sorts and construction sites don't seem as gruff and tough. As with many things in Japan, including the language itself, some things become more palatable when softened.
One theory is that drivers don't want to hit the cute animals, so the characters are a form of accident prevention. I'm not sure about that, as whenever I pass sites like this, I end up looking at the cartoon animals instead of the road! I'd also say that these barricades are fun for little kids too.
And from the increasingly interest online, it seems like adults are also into spotting unusual character barricades.
Now, there are a variety of character barricades, including traditional Japanese style lanterns, little construction workers or the shapes of Japanese prefectures. And different parts of the country might have different cute baricades! Have a look below.