Who doesn’t love a cute, cuddly mascot? North Americans are familiar with the mascot concept when it comes to sports teams and some brands (looking at you, Ronald McDonald). But over on the other side of the world there is a country that has taken the idea of an animated character to the next level.
Referred to as yuru-kyara or yuru-chara, mascots in Japan are everywhere and can represent anything from an event, festival, town, city, political institution, public service organization, company, historical site, to so much more! These Japanese mascots tend to have relatable characteristics to whatever they are promoting and are a bit out-of-the-box when it comes to characters.
The Birth of the Mascot Phenomenon
While the mascot concept has been around for a while, Japan experienced a popular boom around yuru-kyara in 2007 when character Hikonyan was born to help celebrate the Hikone Castle’s 400th Anniversary. The mascot would generate a tremendous increase in visitors and merchandising sales for the castle and city of Hikone, and a pop culture phenomenon was born in Japan.
Yuru-kyara can be spotted attending events, promotional activities, and festivals all over Japan. But just how many of them are running around the country? In the fall of 2014, the online database Gotōchi-chara, reported there were about 3,000 of them on record. In 2012, merchandising sales for these Japanese mascots hit close to $16 billion.
Still, what is truly up with yuru-kyara obsession in Japan? No one knows for certain, it could be their fun and animated ways, but many have speculated the emotional bonds the Japanese have to yuru-kyara can be linked to the country’s folklore and ancient polytheism, where many top figures in these stories were non-human.
The Most Popular Japanese Mascots
Some of these characters can be cuddly, cute, creepy, or down-right scary! Wonder what all the fuss is about? Well, take a look for yourself!
Mascot staying-power is what Domo-kun is all about. He’s the mascot of the country’s public broadcaster NHK, debuting in the late 90s, and is one of the most popular yuru-kyara of all time. This rectangular-shaped, brown, and fuzzy creature always seems surprised, with his mouth locked open and exposing his sharp teeth. Domo-kun can be found outside of Japan, promoting ad campaigns for Target, as well as on merchandise in stores such as Urban Outfitters.
Kumamon was created in 2010 by the Kumamoto Prefecture government to promote the Shinkansen high-speed railway line. And boy did it ever!
The cuddly panda-bear-looking mascot (rosy cheeks, and all) has been embraced by the Japanese public, raking in the dough along the way. As per the Bank of Japan, Kumamon has had an economic impact on this prefecture in the amount of over 124 billion yen, just over the past two years.