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Asika the sea lion...

First impressions of this ASIKA needle tin are usually that it's 'kawai', which means cute in Japanese. It's cartoonish and happy design has an almost Disney like appearance about it.

As is the case with so many brands, the reasons why it came to be will never be truly known. Despite the cheerful appearance shown here, the true story of Asika is a very sad one.

Asika (or Ashika in Japanese) means "Sea Lion". Prior to 2003 the Ashika were considered to be a subspecies of the California sea lion but have since been reclassified as a separate species. The male Ashika typically weighed about 450 to 560 kg so 'cute' is probably not the way they were physically described. They inhabited the Sea of Japan, especially around the coastal areas of Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Interestingly they bred mainly on sandy beaches, so why this design shows them seemingly on floating ice is yet another unexplained aspect of this design.

Records from Japanese commercial fisherman in the early 1900's show that as many as 3,200 sea lions were harvested at the turn of the century, mainly for their oil and fur. Over-hunting caused harvest numbers to fall drastically to 300 by 1915 and just a few dozen by the 1930's. The commercial harvesting of the Ashika ended in 1940 when the species became virtually extinct.

The most recent confirmed sighting of a Japanese sea lion was in 1974 when a juvenile sea lion was captured off the coast of Hokkaido. There were further unconfirmed sightings in 1983 and 1985 but the Ashika is officially registered as extinct.

So why any part of this sad story gave rise to the production of such a colourful tin like this, truly remains a mystery. As I write this, I cant help but to draw some parallels between the plight of the Ashika and the current controversial Japanese commercial harvesting of whales, which has drawn global condemnation.

To end this story on a positive note, some years ago the Korean government announced it would collaborate with Russia and China to bring sea lions back to the Sea of Japan. In 2007 a feasibility study was commissioned which was to consider relocating California sea lions into the area to repopulate it, if after extensive searching no Ashika could be found.

Let's hope that in the future the story of the Ashika can be a happy one, worthy of celebrating.

** Thanks to Wikipedia for the facts**

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