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Tokyo TV producer dreams of stick-your-face-here boards revitalizing Japan

Hiromichi Shizume poses behind a stick-your-face-here board at Iwami Ginzan silver mine, a World Heritage site in Shimane Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of Hiromichi Shizume)

TOKYO -- Hiromichi Shizume has a passion, and it has driven him to some 300 locations, all different geographically but similar in one aspect: Stick-your-face-here boards, those often funny but somewhat melancholic items you usually find on the peripheries of tourist spots.

Shizume, a popular TV producer in Tokyo, simply loves those cutout boards, and has kept sticking his face into them and asked people nearby to take a snap or two, accumulating thousands of pictures in the process. And all those images share one thing: His wacky facial expressions.

"You may not believe this but I'm a serious guy and can't cut loose easily," Shizume said in a recent interview with The Mainichi. "Making those wacky faces in those boards kind of liberates me," he confessed.

Now Shizume is going beyond self-liberation. He just organized a symposium on those cutout boards on May 27 in Tokyo with the help of like-minded people, including Takayoshi Kawai, a Tokai University professor specializing in city promotion, in a bid to utilize them to shore up local culture and economy.

"I've long felt that those panels are being treated unfairly, pushed into the shadows of main tourist attractions. Now I sense their popularity in Japan is growing. People are talking about them online and books featuring those boards are coming out," said Shizume. Some local governments have shown interest in his evangelism for the boards, which he calls "Kao hame panel (face sticking panel)," he said.

Shizume is now dreaming of launching a pan-Japan high school competition to come up with new designs and ideas for how to use the stick-your-face-here boards -- a project he tentatively dubbed "Kaoshien." It's a portmanteau of the word kao (face) and the Koshien ballpark in Hyogo Prefecture, home to Japan's two premiere high school baseball tournaments.

"I want to transform those panels into a new culture capable of attracting young people," Shizume said with a passion to face off against shrinking, greying Japan.

(By Hiroaki Wada, Staff Writer)

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