An Ode To My Gudetama Backpack

I’m travelling, so you get this incredibly weird piece about my favorite piece of carry-on luggage. I will add pictures when I’m not in the Denver airport. Enjoy.

Gudetama is a concept that’s hard to explain. He’s a Sanrio character, which by default means he doesn’t really have much of a concept–he’s a cute little being that was primarily made to grace merchandise, to create cute things that people could then buy and enjoy. Sanrio’s slogan is “small gift, big smile;” there’s a culture of giving small gifts in Japan, to give other people nice things to show your appreciation for being invited over for dinner, getting to borrow their car, etc.–basically to give a gift in situations where Americans might only say “thank you.” Sanrio invented characters like Hello Kitty to put on their small gifts, and since then Sanrio’s empire has exploded, and they offer almost anything you can think of with their little girl Hello Kitty (she is canonically a little girl and not a cat; and so is her boyfriend, which, honestly, is iconic) on it. In short, Sanrio’s large stable of characters primarily exists to make you look at the spatula your friend gave you, the one covered in little Keroppis, and smile at the little frogs, because you like little frogs. They’re good frogs. That’s about it.

Gudetama is a lazy egg. His name is a combination of the word “tamago,” meaning egg, and “gude,” basically the Japanese version of “ehhhh….” I have a gudetama tote bag for work, and my Gudetama backpack, so I often end up explaining his concept to Americans. He’s a lazy egg. He’s just a kind of cute meaningless creature, like Hello Kitty. There are a series of short videos on Youtube where he’s cracked from his shell only to…be lazy. You usually get a nice view of his butt, because butts are funny.

I’ve had a surprising number of people respond strongly to his cute, simple face, to express how cute he is, even though my explanations generally leave them more confused. I think that even though Americans sort of expect a character to have an entire story and concept behind them, we still understand intrinsically that he is a cute egg, and that is enough to begin praising him. He’s cute, and a little funny, and something about that makes us want to smile.

I have a Gudetama backpack. It is from the Gudetama museum collection, which was a series of merchandise they did in 2016 where Gudetama is shown taking the place of classical figures of art. He wears Mona Lisa’s veil, takes the place of Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, emerges from his eggshell as the Venus de Milo, and is dolled up in Kabuki makeup to emulate a famous ukiyo-e print. There are few items in this collection, including two backpacks. The smaller, a leather backpack that makes it look as though the paintings are framed and put up in a gallery–I don’t own that one, although I would like to someday. I own a larger, more practical canvas number, which has the eight different Gudetama art pieces scattered and repeated across its surface. I mainly use the bag when I’m travelling.

I love this bag with a deep and unspeakable passion. On this bag, Gudetama is elevated. He is a very simple egg, with a very simple laziness, and he stays true to form in his museum collection–his Mona Lisa doesn’t smile. His scream in The Scream is gentle, only a minor change to the shape of his mouth.

But to place Gudetama in the starring role of classic works of art is to place him as a figure of beauty, of art, of meaning. He is lazy, yes, he is blobby, undisputably, but he is grand, a figure on the opera stage as well as in the kabuki theater, one worthy of Van Gogh’s moving self portrait style. It equates Gudetama’s form and outlook with high art, with things with beautiful meaning.

My favorite piece is the one modeled after Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” In the original work, two abstract humans wrapped in beautifully patterned fabric are tangled in an embrace, an attempt to portray how passion between two people feels. In the Gudetama version, one Gudetama is facing away from us, clearly kissing the cheek of another Gudetama. The other Gudetama holds the first, while looking directly at the viewer with his iconic lazy expression. I am always struck by the fact that it is two Gudetamas embracing–that it portrays Gudetama cherishing and kissing himself. He loves and embraces himself, specifically in a way meant to emulate a luxurious painting where love and passion are wrought with gold leaf and rich textures.

I related to Gudetama, as a fellow blobby and lazy creature, and I feel incredibly inspired by his move into art in the museum collection. Since Gudetama doesn’t have a very elaborate story, in a way I am free to project onto him things that are meaningful to me. In him, I see a sort of self-love and belief in his own glamorousness that I honestly find inspirational. I envision him coming to be in these paintings because he chose to step into them, because he believed himself ready to take on these roles. I see Gudetama not just as a lazy egg, but a confident and glamorous being who is unafraid to show that part of himself to the world. And I love it.

And I love my backpack.

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