A 2019 calendar dedicated to Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have become Japan’s most popular Christmas presents, outpacing similar calendars of homegrown celebrities.
The Loft chain store, which has exclusive rights over sales of the calendar, claims that the Putin calendar is far more popular than similar offerings featuring actor Kei Tanaka and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu, the stars of the second- and third-most popular 2019 calendars, according to the U.K. publication the Guardian.
Some of the images from Putin’s 2019 calendar include the 66-year-old taking an ice bath, lifting weights, playing ice hockey, cycling, practicing judo, and playing with dogs. Putin is popularly known as a dog lover and owns a Japanese Akita gifted to him by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
— ライブドアニュース (@livedoornews) December 12, 2018
Although many people bought the calendar as a practical joke, the Japan Times notes that the rise in sales is in part related to young women dubbed “Putin fans” with a fondness for the repressive president who explains that they “find something attractive” about the former KGB intelligence officer despite the repressive nature of his regime.
“I can only guess that he appears to Japanese women to be more manly than the average Japanese politician, that he is somehow seen as exotic, a powerful man who is physically different to what they see on a daily basis,” Robert Dujarric, a professor of international relations at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, told the South China Morning Post.
“We know that it is rare for Japanese men to show off their muscles because that’s just not part of the style here, it’s not part of the identity of Japanese men, so maybe a man who is happy to appear bare-chested is appealing,” he continued.
It is also not the first time that Putin-themed calendars have sold successfully in Japan. Loft first launched a calendar for 2016 featuring the infamous image of Putin fishing shirtless in Siberia.
Russia’s current relations with Japan are stronger than many other Western nations. Putin said to have a personal rapport with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, both sides remain in deadlock over a long-running dispute over ownership of a group of islands known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Kurils in Russia. The nations have also never signed a peace treaty following World War II, meaning Russia and Japan are still technically at war.