Hamtaro: The Unlikely Face of Thailand’s Student-Led Protests

Hamtaro: The Unlikely Face of Thailand’s Student-Led Protests

As hundreds of protestors in Thailand came out to protest the military dictatorship in the country with calls to dissolve the parliament in the country, end the silencing of government criticism and revise the military constitution, they did so with the sounds of popular Japanese anime and cultural property Hamtaro. To the preppy sounds of the anime’s theme song, protestors came out in full force using the cute characters in an attempt to mock the leadership of the country. Protesters have been pictured waving about plush toys of the character and singing an altered version of the anime’s theme song as they chant ‘The most delicious food is taxpayers’ money.’ But why Hamtaro?

The use of Hamtaro in these protests is partially due to the character’s popularity within the country. Thanks to the show being broadcast on one of the most-viewed channels in the country back in 2005, the anime was popular in the country from its release and remains fondly remembered by those who grew up with the show. Considering the youth-powered protests on display here, you can assume that many of those who grew up with the show are reaching adulthood now and are the people in charge of and organizing these youth-run protests.

Using Hamtaro is a way for the younger protesters that have come out against the government to try new tactics in the hope of instigating reform and change. Protesters have subverted coronavirus bans on gatherings for rallies organized by the Free Youth Movement featuring over 2000 protestors, making them some of the largest protests in the country since the military coup in 2014. As quoted in the Nikkei Asian Review, a 20-year-old protester identified only as Fah stated that, ‘The adults may think because we’re doing this, they can’t take us seriously. But this is the way for the new generation. We are doing this differently in hope that something will change.‘

The use of song as seen with the use of Hamtaro’s theme song is nothing new for protests in Thailand either. Following the military coup in 2014, groups like Rap Against Dictatorship have formed which have created music speaking out against the country’s leadership, while protest songs also drove the 1973 Thai popular uprising against the military dictatorship in charge in the country at that time. Music’s place in protest in Thailand has been a tool used in the country for decades, just that this time the imagery and music used is related to Hamtaro.

With many protestors feeling that the current constitution doesn’t guarantee them their rights and freedoms, and with hope for true democracy in the country declining as monuments celebrating historical champions to democracy in the country disappear, many feel that they have no choice but to come out and fight for their cause. For this younger generation in Thailand, the voices of cutesy Japanese hamsters in the form of Hamtaro feels like their best choice.

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