‘Real-Life Heroes’ Picking up Litter Amid Pandemic in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Clean Panther, right, picks up litter with other members of her group at the Osu shopping district in Naka Ward, Nagoya.

Faced with a new nemesis in the novel coronavirus, “real-life heroes” dressed in superhero costumes and masks are confronting the battle head-on by performing community service such as picking up litter in towns nationwide.

In the Osu shopping district in Naka Ward, Nagoya, which is often crowded with visitors making the rounds of the eateries, a group of seven in animal masks and costumes was seen early one weekend afternoon picking up cigarette butts and empty plastic bottles. Face masks discarded on the street were picked up and placed in plastic bags, with the tops tied tightly to prevent spread of the virus.

While taking an occasional moment to respond to a request for photo, the heroes filled up three 45-liter garbage bags in about 1½ hours.

The seven, consisting of men and women ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s, started such activities around the spring of 2018.

“Wearing a costume mask lifts me up, and makes even picking up litter fun,” said a 27-year-old female company employee from Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, who was wearing a yellow panther mask and calls herself “Clean Panther.”

“By making picking up litter look cool, I want to create something that will prompt others to want to do something themselves,” said “Skullrouser,” a 24-year-old male company employee who has been performing his deeds around JR Shibuya Station in Tokyo for the past three years. Photos of him have flooded social media, making him aware of the power of the costume.

Courtesy of Skullrouser
Skullrouser in Tokyo

The activities of these real-life heroes are not limited to street cleaning.

At Honancho Station on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, “Baby Buggy Orosun-ger,” who wears a Power Ranger costume, helps people carry bags or other items up and down the stairs. A rice shop operator by trade, the 35-year-old said he decided to wear the costume because “it was embarrassing to address people with my real face.” At first, some looked at him suspiciously, but now he is popular, even among children.

One hero switched his modus operandi because of the pandemic.

A 25-year-old male living in Nagano and calling himself “Last Cannon” switched from picking up litter to crime-prevention patrol. Twice a week he stands in front of JR Nagano station, and has become such a familiar sight that children now wave to him or greet him.

“The activities of these real-life heroes may have something in common with the ‘Tiger Mask campaign,’ in which a person acting under the name of a comic-book hero or a professional wrestler donates stationery and school backpacks,” said Takeshi Okamoto, a 37-year-old associate professor at Kindai University who specializes in subculture.

“It shows a Japanese-like modesty, how they want to do something useful for society, but are embarrassed to show their face while doing it.”