Japan has a very strong culture surrounding second-hand goods. This is largely due to smaller living spaces leading to a lack of space that people have to store things they don’t necessarily need. Instead of letting these things go to waste, they tend to turn to the second-hand market. Given that Japan’s population centers are so dense, there is very likely to be at least one other person close by who wants what you don’t need anymore. This is why you sometimes have Sega World arcade display pieces pop up in the most unlikely of places, as is the case with the infamous “Mysterious Sonic Statue”, which has captivated fans worldwide for many years.
It all begins on December 20th, 2015, when a motorcyclist first uncovered the Sonic statue along a mountain road and promptly posted a photo of it on his twitter account. This caused a discussion to outburst in the Sonic community, with some members approaching the biker online to learn more information. Unfortunately, the biker could not recall the exact route he took that day and eventually neglected any questions surrounding the statue.
A later uncovered Japanese blog post from 2009 containing an image of the statue revealed that it was somewhere in the Mie prefecture. From there, members of the Sonic community were able to contextualize other tweets from the motorcyclist from 2015 and roughly recreate a possible route that they may have taken that day.
The general attitude of the Sonic community was to prioritize the safety and legacy of the statue, leading to an agreement that nobody would publicly disclose the location of the statue if they were to find it outside of a few core members of the community. The community wanted to catalog the statue without risk of vandalism, which had tarnished the legacy of other abandoned relics.
In Summer 2016 another traveler encountered the statue and took a photo, which was only discovered by the Sonic community in January 2017. This temporarily reignited the flame of curiosity, however like the motorcyclist in 2015 the traveler could not recall the exact location of the statue.
It was only on March 29, 2018, that a Sonic Stadium forum user managed to pinpoint the statue on google street view. As per the community agreement, the exact location was kept a secret except for a few veteran members of the forum.
In September 2018, a Twitter user uncovered a Sega World Kadoma advert showcasing the Sonic statue as part of an interior display in the arcade. The Sega World in question had long since been refurbished and/or relocated. At the time, it was determined that during a likely refurbishing or relocation that the interior assets for Sega World Kadoma would have been auctioned off to interested parties, which is where the presumed owner of the statue would have acquired it.
OTAQUEST Editor-in-Chief Eddie has some experience with arcades giving away such material:
Arcades in Japan have a history of giving away signage, promotional materials, and other related items after a game or campaign as cycled out. Being a longtime music game fan, I’ve received all sorts of goods & promotional items from Konami’s Bemani series over the years from arcade managers and owners that I had met and befriended for my own personal collection. One example would be when Ikebukuro Sport (formerly a well-known spot for music games in Tokyo) closed down a few years ago myself and OTAQUEST contributor Corey had actually been given several of their beatmania IIDX tapestries from the manager on their final day of operation just because we asked about them a few days prior on a random stop in to play games.
On 31st January 2019, a community member on holiday in the Mie prefecture expressed interest in finding the statue to the group that maintained its location and was promptly given an address. This lead to the community finally finding the statue first hand, and the first piece of video footage containing the statue that was taken for at least a decade.
By the time of rediscovery, the statue had undergone a significant amount of wear. Cracks, overgrowth, and a missing nose (which was present on the street view image). It was obvious that the statue required urgent care and attention. This lead to the location of the statue to go public in an effort to save it.
Due to an extensive amount of Google Street View traffic since the reveal, the statue was given landmark status as “The Mysterious Sonic Statue” in Google Maps. In turn, the statue is now also a Pokéstop in Pokémon GO.
After Youtuber Badnik Mechanic reported on the story, the statue garnered the curiosity of onlookers across the world. Prop creator Michael Flores AKA CN_Commisions decided to make a trip to the statue in order to properly analyze the structural damage as well as make some 3d scans for personal use. The purpose of his trip was to see whether it was possible to restore the statue. Flores ended up taking many high-quality photographs, capturing details of the statue that the community at large had never seen before. Due to unforeseen time constraints, there wasn’t as much captured as was originally intended.
The condition of the statue was dire, but not beyond saving. The snowboard was salvageable, although most of the framework had rotted away. The makeshift support for the statue was also reaching its tipping point. That being said, an even bigger problem with the statue presented itself: nobody knew the owner, so nobody could fix it even if they wanted to.
Badnik Mechanic made a call to arms for the Sonic community members to spam the chat of the next official Sega Sonic Livestream that week in the slight hope that it would bring it to their attention. Not only did this garner a lot of support in the community, but Sega social media & PR staff member Aaron Webber immediately addressed the Sonic statue during the live stream. Given the positivity and sincerity of the address, this marked a huge victory in the Sonic community. Webber promised that they would approach Sega of Japan, given that the statue was in “their jurisdiction”.
Following the address by Sega, the statue gained traction from a number of Japanese news outlets including Yahoo! Japan and NicoNico Video. This brought the statue into the eyes of Sega and members of the original Sonic The Hedgehog development team, Hirokazu Yasuhara and Yuji Naka, who were infatuated by it.
— Yuji Naka / 中 裕司 (@nakayuji) April 7, 2019
"The Mystery of The Sonic Statue in The Mountains Revealed!" ⁉️🔍🧐 https://t.co/3e0aFcGVL5
— Hirokazu Yasuhara (@Yasuharah) March 30, 2019
News outlet J-Town went on to investigate the statue in person, approaching several locals in the area of the statue. Accounts pointed to a bed and breakfast hotel not far from the statue, the owner of which revealed that the statue marked the entrance of a Villa, which happened belonged to the previous owner of the hotel Yuji Kodera. Unfortunately, Yuji Kodera had passed away a few years beforehand.
J-Town then contacted Kodera’s family who was more than willing to discuss the statue. The family used to operate the Sega World Kadoma, which needed to offload the statue and other assets during the arcade’s renovation. Kodera decided to hold onto the Sonic statue, by taking it to his villa and using it as a marker for the entry given how often people would accidentally miss it. Kodera was known for taking care of the statue as well as the people around him. He celebrated the statue, inviting all the locals to come and admire it when he first put it up. Kodera’s family were very appreciative that people were noticing the statue worldwide, given how much it is in the spirit of why Kodera had the statue in the first place. The family is currently considering refurbishing the statue to some extent.
If anything, I think the legacy of the Sonic statue highlights why it’s important to preserve pieces of culture. The countless of fans worldwide and incredibly work by Badnik Mechanic and J-Town has proven that there is a lot of value in holding on to these cultural relics, even if they are mundane in the grand scheme of things. It’s undeniable that the statue created more value and happiness once it changed hands to Yuji Kodera and his villa than it ever did hidden away in an arcade.
You can watch the full breakdown of events by Badnik Mechanic on his youtube channel.