In Japan, mascots are everywhere. Known locally as “yuruchara”, mascots promote prefectures, cities, local government organizations, sports teams, and even businesses. Official or otherwise, they’re responsible for attracting tourists to their different regions, selling companies’ products, or selling their own products to support whatever they represent. To stand out among the crowd, designers have to think outside of the box, which leads to both super cute and some pretty weird Japanese mascots.
Some Japanese mascots have gained notoriety outside of Japan. NHK’s Domo-kun has become enshrined in meme history thanks to its simplistic, kawaii design and constant TV presence. More popular mascots like Hikonyan (commonly associated with Hikone castle) rely solely on their cute appearance for popularity. Susaki City’s unofficial mascot, Chitan, is a cute but weird mascot known for its outlandish antics on social media, sometimes resulting in negative backlash but still managing to keep the mascot and city in the public eye.
But there is another class of mascot. This type of weird Japanese mascot that relies solely on their strange appearance or disturbing backstories to drive merchandise sales and increase popularity. This ambiguity has sometimes led to some mascots enjoying success beyond that of the typical mascot in Japan.
Kyoto’s Arashiyama shopping district is represented by Tsukihashi Wataru, a disturbingly featureless mascot that carries the famous Togetsu-kyo Bridge on its back. Its dark, empty eyes and rounded limbs provide little in the way of comfort, but do much to increase interest in the Kyoto shopping district it represents. You can keep up with its latest public appearances and posts on its active Twitter page.
Likely the most well-known of the weird Japanese mascots, the official mascot of Yubari City, Hokkaido combines the city’s famous Yubari melons and bears for a result that is more than just the sum of its parts. Meron Kuma’s bared teeth, blood soaked jaws and penchant for attacking and “biting” others at mascot gatherings has earned it a fearsome reputation within mascots circles. Of late, there seems to be an attempt to rebrand it as a more approachable character.
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Shirasu (a tiny, white fish used as a topping in Japan) is the specialty of Oarai Town, Ibaraki Prefecture. In keeping with the food theme, Araippe is a rice ball mascot covered in shirasu with a clam as a mouth. Its multiple, dangling fish appendages give it a somewhat alien appearance. That being said, its likeness can be found on all things Oarai, from pin badges to tatami mats.
Among the bizarre mascot representatives, Amazoness from Ama City, Aichi Prefecture truly stands out. The city is known for its leeks, one of which the character uses to whip patrons and other yuruchara at mascot gatherings and on television. The mascot’s sadistic image is made complete with heavy makeup, some spicy gear, and the strange wordplay combining the words “Amazon” and “mistress” with the name of the city to ensure an slightly uncomfortable mascot experience.
With a name that literally translates as “Human Face Stone”, Jinmen-seki-kun promotes the history of stone exports from the Harunotsuji site in Iki City. The site was established about 2000 years ago and is one of the three major stone exporting sites in Japan. The mascot’s appearance incorporates the city’s history of stone exports well, but also has features that may frighten young children.
At first glance, this pink deer mascot from eastern Hokkaido may seem to have no place in the “weird” category, but looks are deceiving. Tired of being hunted, it brandishes a rifle with the intention of hunting those who have harmed other Ezo Sika deer, an animal indigenous to the island prefecture. Its slightly aggressive look is more similar to that of Mori Chack’s cute yet dark All-Purpose Bunny and Gloomy Bear than your average mascot.
Momiji chan is not shy about pointing the weapon in the direction of others at events, and these antics in combination with its appealing appearance, constantly angry eyes, and disapproving scowl have been pushing the sales of plushies, socks, stickers, and almost every other imaginable product via its online store.
Kurashiki is a city in southern Okayama prefecture known for its unique architecture. The visually appealing black and white buildings found in the city’s historical district were used as warehouses during Japan’s Meiji period.
These historical facts are encompassed in the mascot known as Shirakabeno. In theory, the idea behind the mascot design is straightforward enough. In practice, the walking building with an overly large face and unblinking eyes does more than make us want to visit the picturesque town.
If you would like to meet some of these mascots in person, Japan holds an annual mascot competition known as the “Yuru Chara Grand Prix”. The competition is open to official and unofficial mascots alike, and anyone can vote for their favorite mascot on the website, available in both Japanese and English.
Why not head over and cast your vote? Your choice may even be the next first place winner! After all, winners of the Yuru Chara Grand Prix go on to be household names, just like Kumamon.
Who are your favorite weird Japanese mascots? Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
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