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Creepy Derelict Mining Island Is Home to Japan’s Latest Quirky Mascot

Gunkanjima is the nickname for Hashima, a tiny island off the coast of Nagasaki, which was once the most densely-populated place on Earth. Crammed with towering apartment buildings, the 4-kilometre rock was mined for coal until the mine was decommissioned in 2001. Since becoming a ghost-town, Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) has become a popular destination for urban explorers and photographers of modern ruins, drawn by its eerie and unsettling atmosphere. That atmosphere is set to be livened-up by Gansho-Kun, the island’s new mascot.

A brown and misshapen blob with concrete buildings for a hat, Gansho-kun is intended to resemble the brown rock of the island. In fact, he looks more like a lump of poo with incongruously seductive red lips. A regrettable Tinder date.

The Jabba the Hutt lookalike was unleashed on a bemused public at a special event held on the island last month, and has subsequently appeared in a series of short Youtube cartoons.

Since Gunkanjima appeared as a location in the James Bond film, Skyfall, in 2012, and was approved as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015, it has become a tourist attraction. Gansho-kun is tasked with making the spooky place more appealing to children. Whether or not he can pull this off while looking like a sour-faced pair of testicles remains to be seen.

Gansho-kun has only been around for a few weeks but he is already a controversial figure. His very existence is ruffling feathers in Korea and China. In the 1930s, thousands of Korean conscripts and Chinese prisoners of war were forced to work in the mines of Hashima under brutal treatment and harsh, dangerous conditions. The presence of a jolly mascot prancing about in such a notorious place is considered by many to be distasteful. It seems that Gansho-kun’s reign as Gunkanjima’s mascot may prove to be short-lived.

Togosupo Festival 2017

Nonko and Osaki Ichibantaro

Yesterday was the day of Togosupo, a mascot-packed event held on the shopping street on either sides of Togoshi-Kouen station in Tokyo. Sporting events like basketball and soccer were held, culminating in a tug of war match between two teams of mascots. Hosting the festival were local characters Minami-chan, Ryuunoshin, and Togocho. Chief among the dozen other yuru-chara gathered at Togosupo was Togoshi-Ginjiro, the mascot for nearby Togoshi-Ginza.

Togoshi Ginjiro

Tokyo barbers’ association mascot, Toco-kun, with Togocho, the mascot for Togoshi 5 Chome.

Kumamoto’s Higomaru, looking deflated.

Osaki Ichibantaro and Ryuunoshin.

The tug of war is about to begin.

Japan’s Edible Mascots

Tachikawa “Manpaku” Food Festival mascot, Po

Japanese mascots often behave in ways that are counter-intuitive. The most common example of this is the mascot who promotes a regional dish in which its own species is the chief ingredient. These barnyard animal mascots have a self-destructive propensity to encourage tourists to munch on their flesh.

This suicidal behaviour contrasts starkly with the mascots’ serene smiles. Each of them is ready at any time to skip blithely into the slaughterhouse. Much the like the creature from Douglas Adams’ “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” that has been genetically engineered to take pride in being eaten, these meaty mascots gleefully await their grisly fate.

They are dedicated to their own demises. Just last month, a pig mascot named Ecoton took an exam at the Fukuoka Fisherman’s Hall, testing his knowledge of the best fish to complement Tonkotsu Ramen, a local dish of noodles in broth made of pork marrow bones.

Ecoton, taking a test on fish

One of the most prominent of these enthusiastically edible characters is Hokkaido’s sheep mascot, Jingis Khan No Jin-Kun. The moniker comes from Jingis Khan, a barbecued mutton dish popular in the area, itself named after Genghis Khan, who supposedly popularised sheep meat in the region. But Jin-kun embodies none of the fighting spirit of his Mongolian warlord namesake. Despite being a sheep himself, Jin-kun spends his life singing the praises of the mutton delicacy.

Another mascot who shares this precarious existence is Coroton. He is a massive pig who resides in Maebashi, Gunma, a city celebrated for its pork dishes. So bloated that his forelegs barely touch the ground, Coroton is positively spherical, which must surely make him a sitting duck for local butchers. But, far from waddling to the hills, he happily acts as a cheerleader for his town. Coroton has a death wish that makes Charles Bronson seem timorous by comparison.

Although these mascots’ lifestyles seem to defy reason, they are at peace with their destinies. They are sure of their purpose in life, and are ready and willing to meet their maker, and for this, I envy them.

Why am hungry, all of a sudden?

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!

The Sumida Gotouchi-Chara Festival 2017 – Day 2

Here are some photos from the second day of last weekend’s regional mascot event in Sumida, Tokyo. The star attraction on the second day was Funassyi, the hyperactive pear and unofficial mascot of Funabashi, Chiba. He and Kumamon never seem to appear on the same day at these events. They’re like the brothers from Oasis.

Funassyi takes centre stage.

Osaki’s Thom Yorke lookalike, Spanky, is the guitarist for the yuruchara band, GCB47.

The bedraggled, trippy Psyche-Deli-san is a fitting mascot for Tokyo’s counter-culture enclave, Koenji.

The entertaining Goya-Sensei, a bitter melon from Fukuchiyama City in Kyoto, talks out of his forehead.

The winking “green spirit” Inappi comes from Inazawa City, Aichi.

Shirakawan is a white dog from Shirakawa City, Fukushima.

Sanomaru, official mascot of Sano City in Tochigi Prefecture, was voted best mascot at the Yuruchara Grand Prix in 2013. He wears traditional attire except for a noodle bowl for a hat.

Coroton, the spherical pig, must surely be an easy target in his hometown of Maebashi in Gunma, a city celebrated for its pork dishes.

Sanada Yukimaru is the mascot of Ueda Haramachi in Nagano.

Fukka-chan, the beloved mascot of Fukaya City, in Saitama, a prefecture with seemingly hundreds of mascots.

Talking into his forehead is Chosei Tonyu-Kun, a soy milk mascot whose face occasionally fall off.

The citrus fruit-headed water imp, Yuzu Gappa, of Tokushima Prefecture, reclines in the park. Is he aware that someone has drawn spectacles on his face?

Keisei Panda, corporate mascot for Keisei Electric Railway, looks like he needs more sleep.

Kato Denosuke of Kato City, Hyogo. Cool hairstyle!

Jirokids, from Sumida, is a mouse in Edo-era garb.

Gatagoro, from Saga Prefecture’s Ariake Sea, draws portraits for his fans.

Iga Gurio is the tourism ambassador for Iga City, Mie. He’s a young ninja with a large belly from bingeing on local delicacies.

Kinshicho’s Kinbori looks like an escapee from South Park.

A mascot with a human face- Yamada Ruma, the friendly walking Daruma doll.

This slovenly middle-aged man, Chicchai Ossan, is the surprisingly popular mascot of Amagasaki City, and one of the first talking yuru-chara.

This old hustler is Hustle Komon, the mascot for Ibaraki Prefecture, and a character inspired by the long-running TV period drama, Mito Komon.

The Sumida Gotouchi-Chara Festival 2017 – Day 1

Last weekend was the annual Gotouchi-chara Festival in Sumida, Tokyo. One hundred different regional mascots gathered at three stages and a park near the base of Japan’s tallest structure, the Sky Tree. Here are some pictures from the first day of the event.

Tosakenpi, winking. Tosakenpi is a Tosa dog from Harimaya Bridge in Kochi. He likes sweet potato “kenpi” snacks.

2012 Yuruchara Grand Prix winner, Bari-san, is a giant baby chicken and the mascot of Imabari City in Ehime. Ehime is famous for chicken dishes, so he should consider relocating.

Cable internet company JCOM’s bouncy mascot ZAQ meets noodle-brained Udon Nou from Kagawa Prefecture.

The slick and streetwise squid, Black Bancho, is the mascot for Itoigawa City in Niigata.

Konyudo-Kun, the mascot for Mie Prefecture’s Yokkaichi City, pulls out his tongue.

Yoichi-kun, mascot of Otawara City, Tochigi, sells his wares.

Chiryuppi of Chiryu City, Aichi.

Mikke-Chan is a ballet dancing calico cat and the mascot for a shopping street in Hirakata City, Osaka.

Todorocky is the mascot for Todoroki, in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. He’s a musclebound sea lion who likes boxing and sweet buns.

Chiba mascot, CHI-BA+KUN, takes his shape from the outline of the prefecture.

The ubiquitous Kumamon, of Kumamoto Prefecture, busts some moves on the stage.

Sugamon the duck is a hit with the older women- he’s the mascot for Sugamo shopping district, the fashion Mecca for Tokyo’s elderly ladies.

Zombear entertains the crowd with a string of intestines.

2UYakisoban, a superhero with a bowl of yakisoba noodle soup for a head, hails from Kuroishi City in Aomori.

Tochigi mascot, Tochi-suke, is a warehouse fairy.

Melon-haired, onsen-eyebrowed Kikuchi-kun is the unauthorised mascot for Kikuchi, Kumamoto. He loves his town but scares local children.

The adorable Ebecchan is the sightseeing ambassador of Sanda City in Hyogo. His special skill is catching rice balls.

Hamamatsu’s Ieyasu-kun was the winner of the 2015 Yuruchara Grand Prix.

Shimabaran is the guardian deity of Shimabara, Nagasaki. This character was designed by the creator of Yokai Watch, Noriyuki Konishi.

Sumidile is the mascot of Fugador Sumida, the local futsal team.

Big-eared Hanipon (left) is the mascot of Honjo City in Saitama and came second in last year’s Yuruchara Grand Prix. Here he meets the regal Isa King (right) who hails from Isa City, Kagoshima.

Kiriko-chan looks like the fog that rolls in from the sea in her hometown of Miyoshi City, Hiroshima.

Tokoron, of Tokorozawa in Saitama, doesn’t usually have those eyebrows.

Obuse Kuri-chan of Obuse, Nagano is surely the world’s biggest chestnut.

Hokkaido’s Jingisukan No Jinkun is a sheep named after a grilled mutton dish. No wonder he’s brandishing a sword.

Japanese Sewer Mascots

Japanese mascots are enthusiastic about all sorts of things, even underground rivers of fetid, stinking human waste. Here is a selection of my favourite regional sewage works mascots.


Earth-kun (or Ass-kun, depending on how you interpret the katakana) is a globe with a manhole cover for a hat. He’s the mascot character for the Tokyo sewage system. I don’t want to know what he does with that finger!


Suisui-kun, the mascot for the Japan Sewer Association, is a colourful chap. He is a fish with incongruous human legs, presumably for wading through excrement. Suisui-kun is a cheerful fellow, but even he has bad days from time to time:


Images of an anthropomorphic splash named Aquan adorn manhole covers in Yokosuka City, where he is a cheerleader for the local water supply and sewage system. Being enthusiastic about those sewers is no easy task- he has to deal with the floating aftermath of barracks of soldiers bingeing on Popeye’s Chicken and Pizza Hut at the city’s U.S. military base.


The kappa was once a fearsome beast of legend, instilling fear in the hearts of folk throughout Japan. Yattakun is a cutesy, infantilised shadow of that former glory. As if being de-clawed and neutered wasn’t indignity enough, Yattakun also has to spend his days worshipping rivers of poo.

Yattakun was voted the nation’s fourth best sewer mascot in 2014, a prestigious honour, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Japanese Prison Mascots

Japanese Yuru-chara can be found in the most unexpected of places. They bring joy to sporting events, schools, and tourist resorts, but they can also be spotted at less cheerful institutions. Prisons, for example. Correctional facilities looking to soften their image as grey and forbidding hell-holes sometimes adopt bright and happy mascots, more likely to give you a cuddle than shank you in the showers.


Wakayama Women’s Prison has housed many notorious inmates over the years, including Hisako Ishii – a senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo death cult; and Masumi Hayashi, who killed four people by poisoning a pot of curry at a summer festival.
The prison is also home to Waka-Pi – its adorable mascot. The “Waka” in her name comes from the prefecture, Wakayama, and “Pi” is the letter P, for “prison”. Her head is shaped like the mandarin oranges which are grown locally.


Abashiri is the most infamous prison in Japan’s history. Located in the desolate frozen wasteland of Northern Hokkaido, the maximum security facility long had a well-earned reputation for being the harshest prison in the country, as well as the most difficult to escape from. In the 1960s it inspired a series of yakuza movies starring Ken Takakuru. The original site was closed in 1984, and a new medium-security facility was opened not far from the city centre. That prison is home to Nipo-kun, a mascot modeled on a traditional toy made by the local Ainu tribes.


Katakkuri-chan is a prison warden with a giant purple flower for hair, and is the mascot of Ashikawa Prison. There are male and female incarnations of the character, both unveiled in 2013 to soften the grim and isolated image of the facility. Ashikawa has been in trouble for its harsh and inhumane treatment of inmates. One hopes Katakkuri-kun is not responsible.


While delinquent American teenagers spend their spring break partying in Cancun, the young delinquents of Japan get Nashikan-kun. He’s the mascot of the Nara Juvenile Detention Centre.

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