Mascot Overload: Japan’s Obsession with Mascots
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.