Segata Sanshiro: The Legendary Unknown


Most video game consoles find a mascot to represent the company and sell their product—this idea is nothing new. Established franchises tend to take the stage and sell based on brand identity. However, not every mascot originated in this way. In fact, one of my favorite advertising campaigns of all time involves the use of a completely unknown actor to sell its product. The video game console is the Sega Saturn and the mascot I speak of Segata Sanshiro.

I first encountered this mysterious character when I was watching a subtitled Dragonball Z on VHS about seven years ago. I was really excited about the upcoming brawl between Majin Buu and Vegeta, but that momentum was slowed by a very odd commercial. In the commercial, a man was kicking a soccer ball at a goal. The goalie, a large man in a karate gi, gave a shout and lifted one side of the enormous goal. He lifted the goal onto its side so that the ball passed by the net. The voice announcer then launched into the promotion for a soccer game, but I paused the tape to absorb what I had just seen. I was in total awe of this odd man and the catchy music that accompanied his appearance. It wasn’t until many years later that I rediscovered this odd fellow and learned more about him.

Born February 19, 1946, Hiroshi Fujioka became famous for his work in the 1970s on Kamen Rider. Kamen Rider was known as Masked Rider in America and was similar to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Sega approached him to be a mascot for a series of video game ads for Segata Sanshiro in early 1997. His character was derived from an Akira Kurosawa movie Sanshiro Sugata. In the movie, a young man struggles to become a master of judo. Hiroshi, himself a third Dan black belt in judo and a first Dan black belt in karate, was given the task of becoming the imposing martial artist who trained with a Sega Saturn on his back. His battle cry was “Sega Saturn, shiro,” which can be interpreted as “play Sega Saturn” or “white Sega Saturn,” a popular color of the system itself. Shinjui Nakae, the narrator for the Kamen Rider series, was brought in to be the narrator.

As the Sega Saturn floundered in America and Europe in 1997, the Segata Shanshiro ads began airing in Japan. The premise of these ads was simple: showcase the abilities of Segata Sanshiro, the living embodiment of the Sega Saturn. While some of the commercials focused on Sanshiro’s mental acumen and tenacity, his strength was his trademark. He brutalized bullies on the street, cracked skulls in night clubs and judo tossed a man so hard that he exploded on impact.

The ads ran for a full year and extended the lifespan of the flagging Sega Saturn. It was these ads which allowed Sega Saturn sales to remain brisk in Japan while other countries had given up on the console. Eventually, Segata Sanshiro was killed when he diverted a missile aimed at the Sega office and was shot into space. The departure of Segata signaled the coming of the Dreamcast and the death knell for the Saturn.

Hiroshi has since lent his voice to various video game projects, including the father of Ryo in Shenmue. He also appeared in Mulan as the villainous Shan Yu. In fact, his fame in Japan has soared to the point where a minor planet was named after him. Hiroshi also founded the Fujioka Juku study center to help Japanese youth learn Bushido martial arts and gain a better understanding of Japanese culture. He has been involved with volunteer work around the world, including places such as Sudan.