Month: June 2017

Official vs. Unofficial Mascots of Japan

Most Japanese towns and cities have their own, government-approved “gotouchi-chara” mascots, who help promote tourism and liven up local festivals; but renegade, “unofficial” mascots are just as likely to win the public’s favour. The official mascots are usually wholesome and squeaky-clean, so they tend to be upstaged at events by their unsanctioned counterparts, with their garish designs, and anarchic, outlandish behaviour. Typically, an unofficial mascot does not put forward an image of their hometown that the local government wants to project. But, much to the chagrin of local politicians, the unapproved mascots often turn out to be more successful than the approved ones.

Funassyi vs. Funaemon

Funassyi (left) and Funaemon

Everyone’s favourite hyperactive pear, Funassyi, was conceived by a resident of Funabashi, Chiba, as a potential mascot for the city. But when its creator offered Funassyi to the town, they turned him away. Instead, a couple of years later, they came up with the spectacularly dull Funaemon, an Edo-era merchant who looks like a bland accountant from a 70s British sitcom. Whichever civil servant made that disastrous decision must feel as remorseful as those publishers who rejected the manuscript for Harry Potter.

Funassyi went on to become the country’s most popular mascot, raking in billions of yen through merchandise for its creator, who is now laughing all the way to the bank. While Funassyi could have generated a fortune in revenue for Funabashi City, it seems unlikely that boring old Funaemon will enjoy the same success.

Korou-kun vs. Kikuchi-kun

Korou-kun (left) and Kikuchi-kun

The official mascot of Kumamoto’s Kikuchi City is a cute soldier named Korou-kun. He’s a perfectly serviceable mascot, but looks sadly unremarkable when standing next to his unofficial mascot rival, Kikuchi-kun.

The unique Kikuchi-kun is a Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together from various points of pride from Kikuchi City (a locally-grown melon for a head, hot springs for eyebrows, a dairy cow’s legs, etc.) Although initially unpopular (he made children cry at his first public appearance) Kikuchi-kun has cultivated a cult following for his dry, deadpan comments.

Regardless of who proves to be more popular, both characters will have to endure living in the shadow of Kumamoto’s almighty Kumamon.

Hustle Komon vs. Nebaaru-kun

Hustle Komon (left) and Nebaaru-kun

Ibaraki Prefecture’s official mascot is an old hustler named Hustle Komon, based on a character from the long-running Ibaraki-set period drama, Mito Komon. He faces competition from a lovable natto fairy named Nebaaru-kun. Natto is a healthy but foul-smelling food made from fermented soybeans, and originates from Ibaraki. Imitating the slimy beans, Nebaaru-kun stretches high in the air—an impressive spectacle. How can an old geezer compete with that?

Take note, mascot designers: human mascots are never popular.

Amakko-chan vs. Chicchai Ossan

I spoke too soon. One human mascot who is very popular is Chicchai Ossan, unofficial mascot of Amagasaki City, Hyogo. A balding, unshaven, middle-aged slob in a singlet, Chicchai Ossan is very relatable, thanks to his myriad imperfections.

These same imperfections no doubt led Amagaski’s government officials to look elsewhere for their official mascot. They recently chose Amakko-chan, a heart-headed girl who had been the city’s bus mascot until the service was privatized. Amakko-chan is charming, but she will have her work cut out if she wants to match Chicchai Ossan’s popularity.

Mayumaro vs. Warabi Maiko-chan

The beautiful historic prefecture of Kyoto has a surprisingly bizarre official mascot—a giant, 2000-year-old, waddling silkworm cocoon named Mayumaro. Somehow, his illegitimate rival is even weirder. Warabi Maiko-chan is a combination of a mochi dumpling and an apprentice geisha. What’s more, the costume is transparent, so you can see the performer inside.

Luckily for all these characters, the healthy competition between official and unofficial mascots never turns nasty. It is not in the nature of yuru-chara to be vindictive, so they all seem to get along just fine.

Embassy Mascots in Japan

Embassy officials all over the world know the necessity of adapting to local cultures in order to grease the wheels of diplomacy. In Japan, this inevitably calls for round, furry monsters. Several foreign countries have recognized the value of creating cutesy characters to act as cultural ambassadors, representing their homelands at public events or in PR material. Many of these mascots are as adorable and weird as those of their host nation. Here are a selection:

Tom (USA)
Tom is the American embassy’s mascot. He’s a jellybean because the countless flavours of jellybeans represent the USA’s diversity.

Fintan (Finland)
The Finnish embassy’s mascot appears in anime videos and has 130,000 followers on Twitter. Apparently, like many westerners drawn to Japan, he’s into cosplay- he’s always wearing a lion costume.

Shaloum-Chan (Israel)
The Israeli embassy’s adorable mascot, Shaloum-chan, is a cockatoo extending an olive branch. His name is a combination of the Israeli word for peace, “shalom”, and the Japanese word for cockatoo, “oum.” The creator clearly knows how the Japanese do mascots.

Peccary (Ecuador)
Ecuador’s odd-looking Peccary is based on a clay figure in the Bizen Latin American Museum in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture, a city for which he also acts as a mascot. Peccary is quite the crooner, and has released a CD of covers of other yuru-chara’s songs, “Peccary Sings Japanese Popular Local Mascot Songs”.

Muay Taishi

Unveiled last year, Thailand’s Muay Thaishi is a kickboxing sea-bream/ ambassador. His name is a clever amalgam of the martial art, Muay Thai, and the Japanese words for sea bream (“Tai”), and ambassador (“Taishi”).

I hope embassies keep rolling out these characters, and the trend catches on worldwide. We can achieve world peace, through the efforts of rotund, friendly mascots.

Japan’s Least Popular Mascots

Each year a public vote is held to decide Japan’s most popular mascot. The Yuruchara Grand Prix attracts millions of votes from citizens all over the country, all rooting for their favourite characters. Last year 1,421 mascots entered the contest and the winner, with 4,345,960 votes, was Shinjou-kun, a character from Susaki City in Kochi Prefecture, based on a recently-extinct local river otter with a bowl of nabeyaki ramen on his head. (Perhaps the bowl is an example of the river pollution that led to the extinction.)

While reigning champ Shinjou-kun basks in glory, what about the characters at the other end of the scale? Spare a thought for the seven nondescript yuru-chara below, who suffered the indignity of coming in joint 1,114th (last) place. In the mascot community, this sorry bunch would get permanently swiped left on Tinder.

Ushi Goro is the bovine mascot for Ushizuashikari City Chamber Of Commerce and Industry.

The gardening-loving Mole-kun represents a Fukuoka garden centre called Ground Factory.

A8-Kun is the bee mascot for internet service provider,

The pink dinosaur, Kyu-Chan, mascots for plumbing company, Toirex 9.

Machida’s Grandberry Mall has a shopping-mad female dog called Beriinu-Chan for a mascot.

Mokuzou promotes high quality lumber from the precious old trees of Osaka’s Settsu City. He has a tree stump for a hat.

The nightmarish Nukamura-kun travels the country promoting the Kitakyushu dish, nukamisodaki (headless fish pickled in fermented rice-bran).

Better luck next year, guys!

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