Japanese Mascots: The Yuru-chara Guide

What's a Yuru-chara?

Watch the video for the full Japanese mascot experience:

I attended the 2015 Yuru Chara Grand Prix in November 2015 on a media pass and learned so much about these funny looking Japanese mascots.
I'll share what I took away from this most awkward and yet amazing experience.

Japanese Mascots have gone wild all over Japan! There are literally thousands of them representing local towns and areas, cities, government agencies, banks, products – even prisons! Japanese mascots are called “yuru-chara” in Japan and there are certain guidelines to become one:

1) The character must convey a love for the local area or hometown
2) Character movements or behavior should be unique, unstable or awkward
3) They should also be YURUI meaning unsophisticated, laid-bak – and absolutely lovable!

There are just too many mascots to list here but luckily there is a database with often hilarious photos from geographic location around Japan here:
(Japanese only. Click an area and browse.)

Yuru chara generate a lot of money in Japan ... and now abroad!

Is 2012, the peak of the Yuru chara boom in Japan, Japanese mascots earned US$12 billion. That's a lot of cash in return for promoting a local area, organization or company! This resulted in mascots for EVERYTHING.
There are a few Yuru-chara "Legends" who have reached the highest level of awesomeness in Japan.

* Kumamon from Kumamoto prefecture
* Funassyi from Funabashi city
* Shimaneko from Shimane prefecture

If you are looking for the odd ones, look no further!

* Sento-kun from Nara Prefecture (odd baby-faced character)
* Melon Kuma from Hokkaido (scary bear with a melon head)
* Marimokkori from Hokkaido (um, google it)
* Jimenseki-kun from Nagasaki (stone faced mascot of a mystical island)

However, the trend seems to be fading and governments no longer want to fund yuru-kyara activities for characters that don't generate the buzz and cash.
Having a yuru-chara can be expensive!
A Japanese finance minister pointed out that one mascot cost taxpayers 1M Yen and only made 5 appearances.
With economic times tight in Japan, local governments no longer have the cash to fund experimental yuru-chara.

Osaka is an example of an area that has created too many of mascots with the governor saying: "The prefecture has too many mascots. People do not know what they are promoting or what policy they are trying to raise awareness of.”
In 2015, Osaka cut 30% of their mascots and doesn't have any plans to make more.
That probably won't stop private businesses from creating more of their own though. Don't worry. Yuru-chara extinction is no where on the horizon!

Yuru Chara Grand Prix

Large corporations and organizations like NHK have well established yuru-chara.
Domo-kun is an example of a character that is also well known without having won any contests. However, it's hard for mainstream Domo-kun to compete with the likes of quirky Funassyi and her hilariously awkward movements.

Watch Funassyi in action on Japanese TV:

With so many amazing mascots, how does Japan determine the best one?
It's a decision -- for the people.
Every year, mascots from around Japan are entered into the Yuru Chara Grand Prix which is held in a different city around Japan.
Fans vote for who the like best. Winners from previous years can't enter again, like Kumamon who won in 2012.
Rankings are revealed the day after the event.

Who won? See here:

The 2016 Yuru Chara Grand Prix will be held in Ehime prefecture in Shikoku.
Who will the next winner be?
It seems home field advantage goes to Mikyan from Ehime, mascot for mikan oranges. (Yum!)

Oh, and if you want to change jobs and become a yuru-chara, there's a school for it.
(Japanese only)

by John Daub

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