Home Society & Culture Meet Hiyawan: Mie’s Scary Faced Middle-Aged-Man Dog Mascot [Videos]

Meet Hiyawan: Mie’s Scary Faced Middle-Aged-Man Dog Mascot [Videos]

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Not the face you’d like to see coming after you in a dark alley.

The city of Nabari in Mie Prefecture is not particularly famous, especially among people not from the area. However, over the past few years, more and more people have started to become aware of this relatively small city. This is thanks in no small part to efforts of its peculiar mascot. Best described as a Snoopy-like dog with a face akin to that of the ghost-like masks worn in Noh theater, Nabari’s mascot has managed to use his peculiar look to stand out in the sea of other mascots that exist across Japan. And so, much like we’ve done with other Japanese mascots, such as Nyango Star, Soft Kuriiinu, and Kureshi, today, we’re taking a deeper look into the “ungly-cute” dog from Nabari: Hiyawan.

 

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Name & Design

Hiyawan was created in 2014 by designer Yukiko Miyahara. As is the case with just about every local mascot, his name is a silly pun that links him to the area he represents, in this case, Nabari, which is in Mie, close to its border with Nara Prefecture.

Hiyawan’s name is derived from the combination of two words. First, there’s the hiyawa part. This comes from hiyawai, which is the word used by Nabari locals to refer to the narrow alleyways that the scenic area of the city is known for.

The “n” at the end of Hiyawan’s name comes from the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of a dog barking: wan wan. Wan is also used when referring to a dog, such as in the case of the word wan-chan (doggie). Thus by combining wan with hiyawai we arrive at Hiyawan, and an explanation for why Nabari decided to go with a dog, rather than a cat, bear, or other creature.

 

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As for why Hiyawan’s face has that unusual Noh mask-like vibe to it, this choice also appears to have been inspired by a pun. Both Hiyawan’s official website and a 2014 article published on the Chugoku Shinbun website, suggest that Hiyawan’s design was inspired by arekkowai, a word used in the Iga dialect which is spoken in Nabari. Though the word is roughly the Iga dialect’s equivalent of sugoi, which is a common word in the standard Japanese dialect meaning “great” or “amazing,” it also happens to sound like “are kowai,” a phrase in the standard dialect that could be translated as “Oh my! That’s scary!” Given that Hiyawan is sometimes called arekkowai inu Nabari no Hiyawan (The amazing dog Hiyawan of Nabari), it certainly seems likely that Miyahara’s motivation to make Hiyawan have a face that could be seen as frightening came–at least in part–from this linguistic coincidence.

Characteristics

As is the norm for regional Japanese mascots, Hiyawan has a number of interesting elements to both his backstory and visual design that cannot be understood without digging a bit beyond the surface. For example, numerous sources allude to or even flat out state that Hiyawan is a dog yōkai (a supernatural creature in Japanese folklore). While Hiyawan’s profile on his official website. does not outright say he is a yōkaiit does say he has certain abilities that back up the notion that Hiyawan is some kind of supernatural creature. Most notably, the profile states that Hiyawan has no set weight or height because he has the ability to changes his size in accordance with the hiyawai (narrow alleyway) he finds himself in. Further, the profile says that only people who love Nabari are able to see him.

Perhaps one of the most subtle and interesting aspects of Hiyawan’s design is the space at the top of his head between his ears. According to his profile, this narrow space is supposed to resemble the narrows spaces of Nabari’s hiyawai.

However, even more interesting than the little visual touches and his supernatural powers, is the fact that Hiyawan seems to act like a middle-aged office worker with a drinking problem. For more on this, check out the next two sections.

A Scary, Pervy, Middle-Aged Man Dog

Not surprisingly, when Hiyawan made his debut in 2014, plenty of people noted that rather than looking cute, he looked quite scary. In fact, one contemporaneous report noted that some young children cried after seeing him in person. Interestingly, though, others, particularly on social media, noted that Hiyawan’s face looked like that of a middle-aged man, or ossan. Some even went so far as to say that he looked like a perverted old man (ero oyaji).

Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any reports that state whether Miyahara was surprised by people thinking that Hiyawan looked like a middle-aged man. However, judging by the city of Nabari’s actions, what we can say for sure is that they totally embraced this idea.

Hiyawan Gets a Theme Song

In 2017, Hiyawan got his own original theme song. Called “Hiyawan Koyoi mo Nakama to Nabari Sake” (roughly translates to “Tonight Hiyawan is Drinking Nabari Sake with Friends as Usual”), the song and its accompanying music video fully embrace the whole middle-aged “ossan” persona that Hiyawan has become known for. The music even stops partway through the video in order to show Hiyawan getting tipsy at a bar with a necktie around his head as one of his drinking buddies comes in and the two begin drinking together. As for the lyrics, there’s mentions of partying in Nabari’s hiyawai and getting drunk. Check it out below.

How High Will Hiyawan Go?

While not quite in the top tier of Japanese mascots, Hiyawan has definitely managed to outshine many others in a relatively short amount of time. Perhaps there is no better proof of this than the fact that he got 55th place in the 2019 Yuru-chara Grand Prix (a yearly contest held to determine that year’s most popular regional mascot). This is no small feat considering that there were over 400 enties.

Recently, Hiyawan also got a second original song dedicated to him. Thus proving that there’s still plenty of Hiyawan love out there.

Called “One Chance” (this too is a pun since “one” can be read wan in Japanese), this new song is an upbeat catchy tune of the kind you might expect a Japanese idol group to perform. The song is performed by an Osaka-based female duo called Pocket Lavit, who also happen to be fans of Hiyawan. “One Chance” also got a music video, which was released on November 1. For better or worse, this video does not show Hiyawan getting drunk.

Check out the music video for “One Chance” below.

 

So if you ever find yourself in the hiyawai of Nabari City and spot an emotionless white giant face staring at you, don’t be scared. It’s probably just Hiyawan… probably.

Just because, here’s a video of Hiyawan and a peacock mascot from Aichi Prefecture named Kujakku at an izakaya.

Source: Asahi Shinbun
Image: 【ひやわん】三重県名張市のご当地キャラクター“ひやわん”初のオリジナルソング!「ひやわんの歌~今宵も仲間となばり酒~」 (Hiyawan Official YouTube)

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