Update: An earlier version of this article identified Piske as a chicken. However, after the article was published, organizers reached out to Khaosod English to clarify it was a bird.
BANGKOK — The quiet crowd ooh-ed and aah-ed as a Japanese woman in a giraffe mask drew a pink bunny and white bird running up the stairs of Wat Arun.
Dedicated Thai and overseas fans of Kanahei, best known for the bunny-and-bird Line sticker duo Piske and Usagi, flocked to the Thailand Toy Expo on May 3 to 5 at CentralWorld for a sighting of the famously secretive anonymous artist.
“They’re so adorable. Every time I see them, they make me smile and happy, especially after a long day of work,” said Celine Lin, 36, who flew in from Taiwan as soon as she heard about the chance to get Kanahei’s autograph. “Because of Piske and Usagi, I’ve also gotten to meet a lot of friends from many other countries.”
Line is a messaging app used by virtually every Thai with a smartphone. Kanop Supmanop, director of Line Stickers Thailand, said that in 2018 the 44 million Thais registered on Line sent a total of 11 billion stickers – or 31 million per day.
Many of those stickers are drawn by Kanahei, who has 34 downloadable sticker sets on Thai Line. Usagi, the rabbit, is described as “slap-happy”, “whimsical” and “cheerful” in the sticker descriptions. As a foil, Piske is “honest” and “staid”.
Piske and Usagi stickers are so popular among Thais that there are localized versions with Thai text such as “kod kod” [hug hug], “narak jung” [so cute] or the ubiquitous “555” – internetspeak for laughing.
Kanahei took audience requests during her live drawings, responding to prompts such as “muay Thai” and “mermaids”. Tiny mistakes made the artist touch the snout of her giraffe mask in worry, but the audience didn’t mind at all – watching her draw was therapeutic.
The artist also answered some questions from Khaosod English via email. She explained that she has never defined the precise nature of the relationship between the bunny and bird, only that they are “close and argue sometimes”.
“You can use your imagination,” she said.
On her success in Thailand, Kanahei noted that it was not only her first time in Thailand, but her first time doing a fan signing event anywhere.
“I didn’t know I was known in Thailand. I’m confused and surprised that my characters are popular in places I’ve never even been to. So that’s a very happy thing,” she wrote. “I never thought my characters would be popular with people worldwide.”
“I think people [from all over the world] are able to understand each other through body language and other expressions,” she Kanahei.
Piske and Usagi unabashedly show unfettered feelings, whether by gobbling chips, maniacally typing or breathing slowly with dead eyes. It’s the human touch to the characters that have made them particularly relatable out of all Line stickers.
Lin and her husband, Jack Liao, 37, were among the first in line for autographs and came out happy and satisfied after having met their idol. The couple agreed that they like Piske and Usagi for their expressiveness.
“They’re really funny too. I think that because Kanahei has three children, she puts children’s thoughts and interactions into the drawings, which makes them more interesting – like kids disagreeing in everyday life,” Lin said.
The couple have over 50 Piske and Usagi items at home, including plushies that could only be bought at baseball games in Japan. Now to add to their collection are the one-of-a-kind autographs for which they flew all the way to Thailand.
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