The answer is o-oh my god, not Osaka?!
Well-known to all of Japan, the upper-middle-aged women known as Osaka Oba-chan are a particular breed of individuals. Known for their vivaciousness, nosiness, generosity, and shrewdness, these women are fairly high up on the social food chain of Japan. As such they are known to wear patterns of the animals they closely resemble; tigers, cheetahs, and especially leopards.
▼ This promotional video, which would later spawn the rap group Obachaaan, neatly encapsulates what an Osaka Oba-chan is like.
Their prominent markings allow you to spot an Osaka Oba-chan from a great distance and either avoid them if you don’t want to be asked personal questions, or approach them if you want some free candy.
Despite how entrenched this stereotype is in the Japanese consciousness, leading mail order retailer Start Today is challenging it. They claim that based on purchases on their popular website Zozotown, Osaka was not the leading consumer of leopard print…Saitama was!
Saitama people not only bought the most leopard print items from August 2015 to July 2016, but they spent the most money per person in all Japan. Osaka came in second, followed by Gifu, Tokyo, and Fukuoka. Interestingly enough, Osaka’s neighbor Wakayama Prefecture was the least leopard liking region in the country.
▼ Full rankings by prefecture
This revelation begs two questions: First, why does Saitama like leopard print all of a sudden? Secondly, what happened to the legend of the Osaka Oba-chan?
Asahi Shimbun spoke with some Saitama-based businesspeople who confirmed that leopard print clothes were common sights around the prefecture. One writer for SoudaSaitama.com, Anna Nagai, told Asahi Shimbun that it may be a result of young people in Saitama intermingling with their more fashion-conscious peers in Tokyo.
“Tokyo kids wear cutting-edge fashions first. Saitama kids don’t want to put as much effort into the very latest fashions, but there is a tendency to want to be stylish too,” said Nagai. So it would seem that young women and men in Saitama are choosing to blaze their own trail, possibly partly inspired by the bold look of Osaka Oba-chan.
So, what about real Osaka Oba-chan?
Asahi Shumbun talked to Teruaki Takahashi of Naniwa Komachi, an animal print fashion specialist in the Shinsekai area of Osaka. She said that Osaka Oba-chan wear leopard print, especially with animal faces to help stand out among the crowd. However, they only need to buy one or two of these kinds of outfits for special occasions when they need to draw on the strength of these wildcats.
▼ We got an Oba-chan makeover of our own a while back.
Moreover, anyone who knows an Osaka Oba-chan will already have seen the fatal flaw in this survey. In fact a Zozotown employee in Osaka even pointed it out in their report: “The number-one wearer of leopard print, Osaka Oba-chan, would never shop at Zozotown, because they buy from their local shops. [Start today’s] results don’t include Osaka Oba-chan.”
It is hard to imagine Osaka Oba-chan leaving their usual stomping grounds of local marketplaces for the solitude of a computer monitor. After all, how are you going to haggle with a website?
On the other hand, as Nagai pointed out, in Saitama it is the younger generation that is embracing leopard print and doing so online. This may suggest that we may be entering the twilight years of the Osaka Obachan who might soon become a part of history like the noble samurai or bontan hunter. Conversely, this may also be the dawn of a new breed of Japanese woman: The Saitama Oba-chan. And if they are anything like the Osaka Oba-chan, storekeepers in Saitama better prepare for battle.