Everywhere you go in Japan, you’re sure to stumble into a sign, poster, or merchandise with a cute character emblazoned on it. There seems to be a mascot arms race here in Japan and with good reason: The right mascot can bring prestige, popularity, and a boatload of money with it. Let’s take a look at some of these mascots and their origins to learn a little more about the culture surrounding them.
Yuru-kyara, or, Yuru-chara
The Japanese term for these mascots is Yuru-kyara, which translates to “laid-back characters,” and it encompasses all sorts of mascots, from those representing companies and products to those representing entire prefectures. Quite possibly the most famous is Kumamon, the mascot of Kumamoto on Kyushu island. He’s everywhere and on everything; he even has his own popsicle flavor that uses oranges from Kumamoto as flavoring.
Yuru Grand Prix
Every year there is also nation-wide voting in a competition known as the Yuru Grand Prix. The website is only in Japanese, but you can see a breakdown of the various mascots in the running by region and prefecture. The voting this year (2018) starts August 1st, with the grand prix itself being held in mid-November. Competition always looks to be fierce. One day, I’d like to go and see what it’s all about, but with work schedules, it can be difficult to travel during this time.
Kawagoe City’s Mascot: Tokimo
My city’s mascot isn’t in the Grand Prix, but I have a special place for her in my heart. She is a sentient sweet potato with a miniature Toki no Kane on her head that she wears as a hat. Her name is Tokimo and she is everywhere in the city. Her name is a fusion of the “Toki” from the aforementioned Toki no Kane and the word “Imo,” which is Japanese for root vegetable. In Japanese, sweet potatoes are beni imo, so the name is a clever combination of the symbols and words present. I personally think she’s a great mascot and I’m happy that she’s the one for my city.
What do you think your city’s mascot should be if you don’t have one? If you do have one, are you happy with it? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.