With the end of December fast approaching, calendars are flying off the shelves of Japan’s stationery stores. But instead of the pop stars, Hollywood heartthrobs, fluffy kittens and puppies of yesteryear, the calendar shaping up to be 2019’s most popular features a very different kind of pin-up. Russian President Vladimir Putin is the star of the calendars selling more than any other, according to popular variety store Loft. Online retailers such as Amazon Japan are reporting a similar fascination with the Russian leader, who appears in various macho poses or looking thoughtful and statesmanlike. Young women appear to be the ones driving demand, a spokesman for Loft told the Weekly Post news magazine, yet why this should be is somewhat of a mystery. “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,” said Robert Dujarric, a professor of international relations at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. “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.” Whatever Putin’s personal appeal, most Japanese are likely unaware of the Russian leader’s involvement in matters such as the ongoing conflict in Syria, violence in Ukraine or the recent attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, thanks to the domestic media’s overriding predilection for stories much closer to home. The Putin calendars include images of him working out in a tight T-shirt in a gym, casually attired and apparently explaining a point to an interviewer, and playing with his dogs, one of which is an Akita named Yume that was a given to him by the Japanese government in 2012. Other shots show him naked from the waist up, fishing or peering through a pair of binoculars. Putin’s popularity has knocked home-grown acting star Kei Tanaka into second place in the calendar sales stakes, followed by Yuzuru Hanyu, the 24-year-old reigning Olympic men’s figure skating champion. Adulation for the Russian leader may be ratcheted up a notch again in the new year if proposals that he visit Tokyo come to fruition. Matters to be discussed include North Korea and the question of sovereignty over a number of islands off northern Hokkaido that were seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of the second world war and whose return Tokyo has demanded ever since. These islands, known in Japan as the Northern Territories and in Russia as the Southern Kurils, are the reason the two countries are still technically at war – having failed to sign a formal peace treaty because of the dispute.