Month: November 2016

World Character Summit 2016 in Hanyu (Part 2)

Here’s another bumper crop of oddball mascots that I encountered at the World Mascot Summit in Hanyu, Saitama.



First up, Hanyu City’s very own Igaman-chan, a mysterious fairy with a distinctive pink haircut. Igaman-chan is a local favourite and, along with Mujinamon (a brown woodland creature with a leaf on his head, who I didn’t spot), is one of the official mascots for the event.


Hanyu City seems to have eight mascots, which seems a bit excessive. The runt of the litter is poor old Funadon the fish, pictured below. He doesn’t seem to have been blessed with any discernible personality or special party tricks, and looks like he desperately needs to be thrown back into the river.

2Uyakisoban and Momii

2Uyakisoban is about as suave and stylish as you be for a man with a bowl of fried  noodles for a head. His female companion, Momii, is smoking hot (literally – she’s an anthropomorphic flame).


Yoshiming is a tiny strawberry from Yoshimi town in Saitama. As with Funadon, whoever’s inside the costume must be absolutely tiny. I spotted her being carted away by a man in a (presumably not official) costume resembling Nara’s Sento-kun. Hopefully she won’t end up as dessert.


Na-Chan, an alluring peanut from Yachimata City, is usually seen as part of a double act with her beau, Pi-Chan, but he was nowhere to be seen. I hope this doesn’t mean there’s trouble in paradise.


Although this event is called the “World Character Summit”, barely any of the yuru-chara present are not Japanese. In fact, half of them seem to be from Saitama!
Tom is one exception- he’s the mascot for the American Center of Japan.
If Na-Chan does need a new boyfriend, she could do worse than Tom. Although he’s actually a jelly bean, he at least looks a bit like a peanut. A jellybean was chosen because their variety of colours and flavours represents America’s diversity.

Misato No Mizumo

This impish fella knows how to strike a pose. It’s Misato No Mizumo, a water fairy from Misato Town in Aichi.


Kamuten is a Papa-Smurf lookalike from Shinjo City, Yamagata. For some reason, I feel more awkward approaching mascots for a photo if they look like people.

Hoshi No Aman

Aman’s distinctive plumage looks like a star, to represent the star festival in his hometown of Katano. I find it endearing that his face is frozen in a constant state of bewilderment.



Here’s a yuru-chara I wouldn’t want to mess with. This streetwise tough-guy is Muuto-kun, and he’s the mascot for Saitama aquarium. Don’t call him fish-face!


A monkey from Sarufutsu Village in Hokkaido, Saruppu apparently weighs the same as 90 scallops.

Kyoro-chan and Tororin


On the left we have Kyoro-chan, the classic mascot for Morinaga’s Choco-Balls. On the right we have the Kasukabe Yakisoba mascot, Tororin (who looks much like Phil Oaky of the Human League). Together they make a meal fit for a broke university student.

Kumamon Joins a Wedding

On Sunday I was lucky enough to witness a couple celebrating their wedding with various yuru-chara, including Kumamon. The mascot-crazed couple’s nuptials were among the festivities at the World Mascot Summit in Hanyu, Saitama. Kumamon looked eager to whisk the bride away himself, the scoundrel.



A Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen Mascot

Piple-Kun is the mascot of Hawaii’s Aloha Gas company. He’s an anthropomorphic pineapple in a Hawaiian shirt, his star sign is Leo, and he likes eating spam.I ran into Piple-Kun at the Yuru-chara festival on Sunday. He appears to have been repurposed as a cheerleader for Pikotaro, singer of the PPAP song, complete with the leopard skin shirt and permed hair. He even got up on stage and sang Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen.

Piko-taro is cleverly milking his fifteen minutes of fame for all its worth. I recently popped into his new Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen cafe in Oshiage, at the foot of the Tokyo Sky Tree, for a PPAP parfait. Not bad, but overpriced. I hope they pay the staff well – listening to that song on repeat four hundred times a day would drive anyone to ram a pen into their own skull.


World Character Summit 2016

On Sunday I went to the World Character Summit in Hanyu City, Saitama. This is like a Glastonbury Festival for Japanese mascots, with over three hundred of them standing around in a muddy field to promote whatever city, company, or product they represent. The characters perform on stages, and meet and greet their fans. I got a ton of pictures of the various yuru-chara I met, and I’ll be posting them throughout the week.




Sanomaru, the official mascot of Sano City in Tochigi, is always a pleasure to spot. Winner of the Yuru-chara Grand Prix in 2013, Sanomaru is an adorable pup with a bowl of Sano ramen on its head. Whoever’s inside Sanomaru deserves credit for making him bounce around exuberantly and twitch his nose.



Kyuichiro is a unique creation, named after the frequency of the radio station he’s the mascot for, Nippon Cultural Broadcasting. He has speakers for ears and his eyes and nose are in the shape of the frequency: 91.6.



Muuma, the dream horse, is the mascot of Hanno City, in Saitama. I like that funky green hairstyle.



Tsutiy is an earth sprite, and the mascot for a Yamanashi-based agricultural firm called Tsutibokori (cloud of dust). According to his business card (yes, earth sprites carry business cards), Tsutiy is 831 years old and his motto is, “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”



Hailing from Fukushima’s Yanaizu town (famed for a “naked festival” held there each winter), Utochan is a combination of the second and third signs of the Chinese zodiac, the ox and the tiger. Presumably his life is a constant fight against the cannibalistic urge to eat himself.



And last but not least for today’s posting, Kumamon took to the stage for a few minutes of clowning and dancing. The famed black bear from Kumamoto wowed the crowd with a spirited performance. A middle-aged man beside me was moved to unironic tears.


The most prominent and popular “yuruchara” in Japan are the regional mascots, or gotōchi-kyara (loyal characters). Prefectures, cities, and districts throughout the country each have their own cuddly character.

Kumamon visits victims of the Kumamoto Earthquake

Perhaps the most famous of these regional mascots is Kumamon, a large black bear from Kumamoto. Since his introduction in 2010 to promote the Kyushu Shinkansen, billions of dollars have been made from the sale of Kumamon merchandise, from stickers to T-shirts, to dildos. (I’m not sure the last one exists, to be honest.)

The mascots tend to be based on local farm produce or wildlife, or puns on the names of the area they’re from. (For example, Kumamon is a bear because he’s from Kumamoto and “kuma” means bear in Japanese.) Combinations of local produce and animals result in truly bizarre and quirky creations, like Melon Kuma, the freakish melon-headed bear of Yubari, Hokkaido. Others are notable for the “kimo-kawaii” ineptitude of their design, like the weird humanoid, Okazaemon from Okazaki city in Aichi.



Melon Kuma attacks Kumamon

Melon Kuma attacks Kumamon

Even more popular than Kumamon is Funassyi, a hyperactive pear from Funabashi, Chiba, who is famous for his exuberant gestures and stunts. Although Funassyi isn’t even strictly an official character, the Funabashi government having declined to adopt him a mascot, his popularity has grown immensely in the last few years. This has made his furniture-store-owner creator (instead of the Funabashi government) incredibly rich. A natural rule-breaker, Funassyi’s unofficial status is a tribute to his anarchic spirit. The word “yurui” in yuru-chara means “loose”, or “laid-back”, which Funassyi is anything but. The exuberant acrobat inside the costume deserves all the credit for making the character so appealing. Funassyi has even been featured on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show in America, and has appeared live on stage with Ozzy Osbourne.

Funassyi with Ozzy

Funassyi with Ozzy

 My doodle of Kumamon and Funyassi. Clearly I'm going to have my work cut out if I'm going to try to design such characters myself.

My doodle of Kumamon and Funyassi.

In March I noticed that a gotōchi-kyara expo was to be held in Oshiage, Tokyo, at the foot of the gargantuan Sky Tree building. Because I like nerding out over these characters and I like to draw them myself, I went along, excited at the opportunity to observe ninety diverse yuruchara in “the wild.” There was a veritable carnival of characters to be spotted. I arrived too late to see the highly in-demand Funyassi’s brief 10AM appearance, but otherwise I was not disappointed.

The day’s events included a stage show, in which a young woman “interviewed” the characters on an outdoor stage—I would question the wisdom of this choice, since most of them don’t actually talk.



Simultaneously, dozens of gotōchi-kyara were congregated in a nearby park, to meet and greet their fans. Wandering around and shaking hands with these beasts, one by one, was tremendous fun. In true Japanese fashion, most of them were handing out business cards.

The main event on the calendar for Japanese mascots is the annual “Yuruchara Grand Prix”, which was this year held in Ehime prefecture, Shikoku, in November. At that event, almost every gotōchi-kyara you could think of was in attendance, (eternally busy Funassyi being an exception). Votes opened in July for this year’s winner and flooded in by the thousands. The well-deserved victor was Shinjo-Kun, the mascot for Susaki city in Kôchi. Apparently, Shinjo-Kun is modelled on an extinct species of river otter last seen in the Shinjo river in Susaki, and he wears a bowl of local nabeyaki ramen on his head as a hat.

Shinjo-Kun, at the Sumida Gotōchi-kyara Festival in March.

Shinjo-Kun, at the Sumida Gotōchi-kyara Festival in March.

Claiming the mantle of Character of the Year is a great honour, for both the mascot’s creator and the town it represents.

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