Emerging from the cocoon that was The Daily Show, John Oliver has carved out a brilliant spot for himself with his own talk show Last Week Tonight. He has produced some amazing pieces on net neutrality, Edward Snowden, the Miss America Pageant and the NCAA. Viewers tune in each week to find out what subject close to their hearts is being roasted or promoted on HBO. Japan has gotten a couple of mentions on the show before, but this past week brought the insanity that is Japanese mascots to the attention of his viewers. Surely Japan’s mastery of the subject can teach the rest of the world something.
When you think about Japan’s obsession with the yuru-kyara, you will notice a few pretty common characteristics between the mascots, especially when looking at the past grand prix winners. Kumamon, Sanomaru, Gunma-chan, and Bary-san are all large, cute, fuzzy and somewhat aloof. Which is why it’s so strange to see one of the newest yuru-kyaras to debut.
Warabi Maiko-chan doesn’t seem that cute or fuzzy. In fact, whatever characteristics this new mascot is supposed to have, we can clearly say, we can see right through her.
In larger countries like Australia and the United States, vehicle registration is carried out at the state level. This has long allowed each state to produce distinctive designs, including slogans or iconic imagery on number plates. In little Japan, however, vehicle registration is issued by the national government, so car owners have had no option to show their local pride with a regional license plate…until now.
The Ministry of Transport has announced that from next year, local authorities will be free to put colourful character designs on car number plates. Let’s have a look at some of the potential ways to pimp your Japanese numberplate!
Earlier this week, we took a look at the year’s 20 most popular karaoke songs for teens, and found that the list was made up entirely of anime themes, vocaloid songs, and the Japanese version of “Let It Go” (proving there’s literally nowhere you can go where you won’t run into the Frozen hit). And while we’re sure the 2-D sweep put a smile on the face of otaku and technophiles, we can imagine some traditionalists grumbling about a lack of music with a connection to anything real.
Well, is a human-sized pear real enough for you?
Gunma-chan, Gunma Prefecture’s regional mascot, or yuru-kyara, may not have the most creative name. The cap-wearing horse more than makes up for that shortcoming with cuteness, though, and was recently named the winner of the nationwide Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix popularity contest.
The championship is the culmination of a long campaign for Gunma-chan, who finished in 18th place in 2011, before spending two years stalled in the number three spot.
Having now reached the top of the yuru-kyara world, it’s time for Gunma-chan to savor the sweet taste of victory, and time for everyone else to savor the sweet taste of Gunma-chan candy.
Have you ever wondered how Kumamon suddenly burst into the spotlight back in 2011? It was the result of his victory in the national mascot character contest, the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix. The contest has been held every year since 2010 and Kumamon was the first major winner in 2011.
Voting for the annual contest runs from August to October every year and people are eligible to vote for their favorite character (usually the one representing their town or prefecture) once a day for the duration of the contest. Well, the results for the 2014 contest are finally in, and it looks like a certain entrant took the win by a nose.
Say what you will about ‘yuru-kyara‘ – the marketing idea that can be basically summed up as Japan’s “let’s have a cartoon mascot for EVERYTHING!” philosophy – but the vast majority of those funny characters adopted by prefecture and town tourism boards across the nation are nothing if not cute!
Take Princess Miyako, character mascot of Miyako-machi in Fukuoka Prefecture. Designed by illustrator Shiitake, Princess Miyako is the picture of youthful elegance: her fresh purple and green tones are even modelled after the town’s iris flowers.
It’s one thing to design a beautiful anime character in two dimensions. But when that mascot gets transformed into a three-dimensional character costume, bad things can happen. Bad, bad things…
Over the years the mascot industry in Japan has swelled considerably. An uncountable number of people in big-headed costumes currently represent the nation’s prefectures, cities, government offices and private companies. Then on top of all that we have independent mascots running around too like Funasshi and Teruhiko.
However, the editors at RocketNews24 feel they have come up with something that will bring the entire mascot world down to its knees. His name is Hard Ku**mon and he is prepared to do something that no other mascot has done before: actual labor.
As one of the most scenic sections of one of Japan’s most beautiful cities, Kyoto’s Arashiyama isn’t exactly hurting for tourists. Still, the neighborhood is looking to attract even more visitors, and in doing so has decided to employ Japan’s current favorite travel marketing technique by creating a yuru-kyara, or local mascot.
Designers actually had multiple ways they could have gone with this, such as playing up the area’s historic temples or beautiful bamboo groves. In the end, they drew their inspiration from the Togetsukyou Bridge, which was first constructed in the early 9th century.
But while that’s a fine choice, we can’t help but question the final design for the character, in which a portion of the bridge is dumped on the back of the vaguely humanoid creature called Wataru Tsukihashi.
From December of last year until this February, Tottori City held an open call for mascot ideas for a character to represent the Tottori Castle ruins. The ruins were named one of Japan’s 100 notable castles and have enjoyed an influx of tourists.
The mascot idea which came in second place was Katsue-san, the starving farm girl. When the announcement of Kazue hit, the internet lit up with excitement. However, she mysteriously disappeared from the Tottori City website soon after.
The yuru-kyara world watches with a cautious eye as recent unofficial mascot Teruhiko has been steadily building a fan base online. This slightly emo looking mascot character operating out of Hakodate has been winning over hearts with his cooking tips.
However, Teruhiko has a dark side that occasionally appears in impassioned tweets that threaten to undermine the otherwise diplomatic and squeaky clean world of people in puffy costumes.
Yuru-kyara, those lovable mascots of urban and rural districts all over Japan, have finished their annual yuru-kyara Gran Prix with Bari-San the chicken clinching a long awaited first place.
But that doesn’t mean these men and women in giant animal costumes have time to rest. No sir. Just as the last Gran Prix closed yuru-kyara it’s now time for the hundreds of mascots to begin campaigning for next year’s vote.
This brings us to Takibou, the Tanuki Monster of Shaolin Temple (not the kung-fu one) in Hachioji, Tokyo. Takibou had finished 58th place (top 6%) in 2012 and is hoping to improve on that performance. So, for the first time – probably in the world – a mascot is releasing their scent for the public to buy.
Anyone who’s been to Japan knows that it’s a mascot loving country. Everything from attack choppers to Windows OS to Temples has a cute moe character representing it. I remember when I first came to Japan, the customs website had a cartoon schnauzer in a police uniform explaining the list of prohibited items upon entry.
And then we have the genre of yuru-kyara (loose mascot characters) who are more of the Disney person-in-a-mouse-suit type mascot. However, these mascots don’t represent businesses. They are the cute symbols of cities, towns, districts, or even buildings.
Across the country there is an intricate network of yuru-kyara, the sheer size and variety of which makes you begin to understand why Pokemon came from this country. Since 2010, an annual nation-wide vote has been held to choose the fairest mascot of the land. For the Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix 2012, 6,500,000 votes were cast to rank the 865 official mascots who entered.