Why Vladimir Putin is topping calendar sales in Japan

Russian president has amassed a large Japanese fanbase

Putin the topless horse rider, showing off his "vigorous torso" (as the Russian media called it) in 2009.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2019 calendar is proving the year’s biggest hit with Japanese shoppers, according to one of the country’s leading retailers.

Loft, which has exclusive rights to sell the Putin calendar in Japan, says that sales are those of outstripping homegrown celebrities.

The Russian premier has pushed screen heartthrob Kei Tanaka and Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu into second and third place, said a spokesperson for the firm, which has more than 100 stores across Japan.

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As for the reason for Putin’s popularity, the answer is probably a mixture of ironic humour and genuine fascination.

Putin’s yearly calendars have long been a popular gag gift, due to their kitschy portraits of the leader engaging in ultra-macho pursuits including judo practice or stripping down to wade in an icy pond.

This year’s edition includes shots of the president horse-riding in traditional costume and playing ice hockey, alongside photos from his activities as head of state. In June’s portrait, he is shown holding a puppy – a nod to his fondness for dogs.

However, Japanese media reports “suggested many of the people buying the calendars, including a large number of women, were drawn to Putin’s unconventional style and unashamed machismo”, says The Guardian.

Robert Dujarric, a Tokyo-based professor of international relations, told the South China Morning Post that, to these female admirers, Putin appears “more manly than the average Japanese politician”.

“It is rare for Japanese men to show of their muscles because that’s just not part of the style here, it’s not part of the identity of Japanese men,” he said. “So maybe a man who is happy to appear bare-chested is appealing.”

His 2017 calendar was also a bestseller in the country, due in part to one photo showing Putin petting a Akita Inu puppy given to him by the governor of Akita prefecture in northern Japan.

On social media, Japanese users were “amused and sceptical” regarding Putin’s apparent fanbase in the country, says SoraNews24.

“I kinda want one now,” admitted one commenter after reading the report. However, another user was blunt in their distaste for the craze: “I’d be weirded out if I went to a friend’s house and saw Putin hanging on the wall.”

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