In Japan, yuru-kyara (character mascots for PR purposes) are designed for just about anything you can think of–cities, prefectures, companies, brands, projects, events, sports teams, products and more. This list is a ranking of my personal favorites, chosen from the hundreds (if not thousands) that exist throughout the country. I also list the top three worst yuru-kyara at the end of the post.
Barii-san is the kind of simple mascot that people like, complete with an adorably stupid kind of huggability. Acting as the mascot for Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture, he is apparently a portly bird of some sort, and his accessories represent local Imabari products (the haramaki stomach band is made from towel material, as towels are a major Imabari product, and the ship tucked into his haramaki represents the town’s shipbuilding industry).
A recent entry into the character mascot arena, Gibo-chan is the mascot for the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Apparently he’s an ornate wooden post…? At any rate, he’s apparently quite popular in Tokyo, especially among the kids.
#8: Morizo and Kikkoro
This pair of mascots were the official mascots of Expo 2004 in Aichi Prefecture. They are both some kind of forest spirit, with Morizo (right) being the older, wiser one and Kikkoro (left) being the younger, curious one. I think anyone can enjoy these green blobs of cuteness.
I’m at a lost for words every time I lay eyes upon Nishikokun, the unofficial character mascot for Nishikokubunji. It’s like…some sort of pendant with spandex-clad legs coming out of it. Watch this video to get a better idea of Nishikokun’s unique appeal.
Burubeh is the mascot for Kodaira City, Tokyo Prefecture, the birthplace of blueberry cultivation in Japan. It’s a giant blueberry licking his lips, whose leaves (?) look like a hula skirt. What else can I say? Pure genius.
This feline mascot was created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the construction of Shiga Prefecture’s Hikone Castle, one of Japan’s greatest fortresses. Hikonyan was one of the first yuru-kyara to gain massive popularity, and he has made a number of television appearances, spawned a line of products and amassed a large fan following. The “nyan” part of his name is a play on words, as nyan is the Japanese onomatopoeia for a cat’s meow and also resembles the diminutive honorific suffix -chan (this is combined with the “Hiko” from “Hikone”).
Domo-kun made his debut in 1998 on NHK and has been a popular mascot since. His mouth is permanently locked open, and he can’t really speak (he just makes strange sounds that only his friends understand). He lives in a cave and has a plethora of strange companions, including an alcoholic bat, a tea-drinking rabbit, a fashionable weasel and others. Domo-kun’s biggest appeal is that you can’t look at him and not smile.
Noppon is the mascot of Tokyo Tower, created to celebrate the landmark tower’s 40th anniversary. There are actually two Noppon: the one pictured above, and his younger brother who wears red. There is no other word except “awesome” to describe what looks like a giant penis wearing overalls with a lightning rod on top.
…speaking of which, the next mascot comes from my town, Fukuoka. F-Man is the mascot for local English-language magazine Fukuoka Now, and his variety of superhero-like poses, ridiculous appearance and borderline-inappropriate name make him an instant classic. Aside from the propeller mounted on the long, orange thing protruding from his head, what would you venture to guess F-Man’s super-power is?
Another Kyushu local, Kumamon is by far the coolest mascot in Japan to date, and he was voted most popular in the nationwide Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix 2011. This half-deranged, drug addicted, potentially violent bear is also irresistibly adorable. His simple style and strong personality make him the ideal character mascot in Japan. Kumamon was created to draw tourists to Kumamoto Prefecture with the opening of the Kyushu Shinkansen in 2011, and according to his profile he’s a public employee working for the same prefecture’s government. Posters and advertisements featuring Kumamon have appeared in locations all over Japan, and he has made a number of appearances in the media.
Special Mention: Worst Mascots
Generally speaking, your mascot should not look like a giant mound of green poo. And as you can tell by the car behind Shirakamisanka in this picture, it is quite a big mound indeed.
Torimocchan is the mascot for Yamanashi Prefecture’s chicken giblets. However, his creepy eyes makes him look more like a pedophile than anything. Keep your kids away from Torimocchan.
I don’t know where to begin describing all that is wrong with Sento-kun. The most prominent shortcoming is the unsettling, “rapey” aura that surrounds him. Then there’s the fact that he was created to honor the 1300th anniversary of historic move of the imperial capital in 710 to Heijo-kyo (now known as Nara)–they honored this momentous event by creating a Buddhist monk character with antlers jammed into his head (to represent the free-roaming deer of central Nara), a blasphemous decision that drew protest from numerous local monks. Furthermore, most characters in Japan are created inexpensively, by regular employees in their free time, whereas Sento-kun was designed for a large fee by an actual artist. In the end, almost everybody was creeped out and/or offended by this monstrosity, but that didn’t stop the Nara PR folks from putting his image and life-sized statues, not to mention costumed mascots, all around the Kansai area.