The Marian statue at the children’s home in Miyazaki City where the gifts were found
Since last Christmas, a new and unlikely form of charity has benefited youth counselling centers and children’s homes throughout Japan. The benefactors are heroes from the popular manga (Japanese comics and print cartoons) series Tiger Mask.
In more than 100 separate donations, beginning on Christmas Day, people have assumed the names of characters from the manga and others have donated school backpacks, supplies such as pencils and notebooks, money and sometimes even vegetables and rice.
The first donor in what has become known as the 'Tiger Mask Donation Phenomenon' was a man using the name Naoto Date, the lead character of the first Tiger Mask manga, which was popular in Japan around 1970. A wave of copycats has followed suit with similar actions.
In the manga, Naoto Date was raised in an orphanage and became a professional wrestler as an adult. He wore a tiger mask when fighting and used his prize money to help children living in his former home.
|A statue of Ironman
One Tiger Mask donation was filmed and featured on television. On January 11, a man wearing a tiger mask visited the Sayuri Home, a children’s care institution in Oita City, 790km southwest of Tokyo. He too called himself Naoto Date, handed staff members two girls’ backpacks, and then ran off.
Sister Sachiko Kumamoto, the Salesian director of Sayuri Home, said the man had called earlier that morning to ask how many backpacks were needed. The staff asked him to call back 30 minutes later. As soon as they hung up, another call came in, this time from a local television station. Sayuri Home negotiated an agreement between the station and the man, who allowed his act of generosity to be taped provided his face was not shown.
Because of the television feature, however, some viewers called the event a publicity stunt and others even accused the home of staging it outright. However, when the staff outlined the sequence of events, it seems that everyone was satisfied by their explanation.
Also in January, it was revealed that, for the first time in 30 years the number of children’s care workers throughout Japan was scheduled to increase, something that according to Atsumi Takahashi, another employee at Sayuri Home, no one had been able to convince the authorities to do. “We owe it all to the Tiger Mask uproar,” she said.
On the morning of January 12, a green package purportedly from 'Ironman #28' (known in the West as 'Gigantor') was left at the foot of a statue of the Virgin Mary by the front gate of Take no Ryo (literally: “bamboo dormitory”), a children’s home run by welfare organisation Caritas no Sono in Miyazaki City, 870km southwest of Tokyo.
Some workers there connected it with the events they had seen on TV and sure enough, upon opening it, they found timepieces, school supplies, and more. For several days the gifts were kept on display near the front gate.
“(The children) all flocked around it, saying ‘wow, awesome!’ They were so happy,” said the director, Sister Naoko Hamabe of the Caritas Sisters of Jesus, looking decidedly happy herself.
Sister Hamabe and her colleagues have continued to receive gifts for the children, ranging from gift cards to musical instruments. Each gift was accompanied by a note.