One thing everyone knows about Japan is the high amount of cuteness that goes on here. The home of Hello Kitty has no shortness of cute, and many of these cute things are represented as mascots, known in Japan as Yuru-Kyara (ゆるキャラ). From small businesses to entire prefectures, yuru-kyara are everywhere to be seen in Japan.
Mascots prove themselves an easy tourist attraction. Everyone loves to take a picture with them, and they are easily available for it. Many businesses have yuru-kyara, and occasionally they are brought out for promotional purposes, and other times they are featured in commercials.
The red cheeked black bear Kumamon is possibly the most well known of the official regional mascots. He represents Kumamoto prefecture, an area in the west of Japan. He appears on all sorts of products, including a brand of rice produced in Kumamoto, and is a popular mascot with children. Kumamon has proved to be an incredible success for the prefecture, bringing in tourist dollars, revenue, and recognition to the area.
Cats are well represented in the world of yuru-kyara. Shimane Prefecture has one named, appropriately enough, the yellow cat Shimanekko (a portmanteau of the prefecture’s name and the Japanese word for cat, neko), which was featured as artwork in a rice paddy field that could be visible from the air! Another one is the white cat Hikonyan, who is a mascot for the city of Hikone, and was inspired by a white cat that was said to have saved the lord of Hikone from a lightning strike in feudal Japan.
The most popular of all the unofficial mascots presently is a hyperactive, hard rock loving pear called Funassyi (pronounced foon-ah-shi). He came into being as a tribute to the town of Funabashi in Chiba prefecture in November of 2011, and exploded onto the Japanese consciousness from there. He is an unofficial mascot because the city agreed that making him official would lose him his independence to appear everywhere as he does. Funassyi is a commercial success, too, appearing as toys, key chains, mugs, stuffed dolls, golf club covers, and even has a few books and a record to its name! Funassyi has been to Seattle and Miami, has also explored Hawaii and competed in a soapbox derby in Italy for the Nippon Television programe Itte Q, and was profiled by the New York Times in 2014, dipping its toe into international recognition.
Of course, you can also see yuru-kyara at amusement parks, sports events, or conventions, but it’s also highly amusing to see them in front of a business, helping to advertise its wares and having pictures of them taken. They are often adorable too, and how could someone not be charmed by that? Yuru-kyara help bring awareness and gives a measure of popularity to different organizations in Japan.