15 Sep

ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS MACKENZIE

The Japan Times recently featured an article by Colin P.A. Jones called ‘Mascots on a mission to explain the mundane’. At the end of the article he proposed a mascot for the supreme cout who dish out the death sentence among other things. His idea was Tsuru-chan or Tsuru-kun a cartoon stork. Like most mascots the name plays on dual meanings, one being the Japanse word for “crane” and also “hang.” He also wrote ‘That cranes have long necks would be an added bonus’. Now the Japan Times ask readers to

Please drop us a line with your ideas for mascots to represent any branch of the Japanese bureaucracy, national or local. Alternatively, create one yourself and send in a JPEG file of your idea. If we decide to publish your illustration, contributors will be paid ¥5,000.

With the chance to win ¥5,000, Send your ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp by by 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. I look forward to seeing the results.

Illustration by Chris Mackenzie

10 Jul

Heres Open-chan and Lock-chan (OPEN小將 & LOCK小醬) tearing it up on stage. I think they are mascots for 7-Eleven in Taiwan and from what I can gather were created by Dentsu, Japans biggests advertsing agency. Heres an animated comercial with Open-chan doing some more dancing unfortunately without Lock-chan exposing himself though.

30 Jun

mascots

Fuzz and Fur my new book on fur-suit mascots is now available to buy from amazon. To give people a better idea of what they can expect from the book I thought I’d pick some of my favourites which might help explain why I love this unusual brand of Japanese characters. The fur suit costumes or kigurumi as they’re known in Japan are created to promote anything from bridges, castles, roads, towers, the police, water purification plants and most notably prefectures. A new word, Yuru-kyara was coined by illustrator Jun Miura to categorize this new breed of character. Yuru means loose or weak and when combined with the word ‘character’ refers to mascots that are somewhat imperfect or unserious. Find out more below and click the mascot names to go to their official site.

Hikone kigurumi

Hikonyan
The mascot for Hikone Castle is probably the most famous yuru-kyara EVER. People travel to the castle not to see the beautiful grounds or explore the castle, but to meet the samurai cat Hikonyan, who visits the castle four times a week. His name combines Hikone and nyan, the Japanese onomatopoeia for a cat’s meow. The cute cat wears a kabuto (samurai helmet) with huge horns similar to the one Ii Naokatsu wore in battle. Ii Naokatsu was a Japanese daimyo during the Edo period who completed the construction of the castle and also said to have escaped being struck by lightning thanks to a beckoning cat.

Yaoi-chan

801-chan
Furry, green, wide-eyed and modelled on a local vegetable, 801-chan also has a strange connection to homosexual comics. Pronounced Yaoi-chan he’s the mascot for Misonobashi 801 Shopping Centre. The green monster adopts the same trademark color as the shopping centre while the shape is based on Kyoto’s famous short and round eggplant. The character’s name comes from the individual pronunciation of the numbers 8-0-1 Ya-o-i. The character quickly became an internet sensation after fans of ‘boy love’ comics called yaoi discovered the character. Yaoi is mostly used to describe manga featuring homosexual male relationships, usually created by female authors. As a result the shopping district has seen a surge of unexpected publicity.

Bear kigurumi

Arukuma
A kigurumi into kigurumi, this green bear loves to collect hats. Each one reflects one of Nagano’s many specialities, his collection includes a chestnut, persimmon, mushroom, lettuce, soba and wine. Arukuma, quite possibly the cutest kigurumi is the mascot for East Japan Railway and wants tourists to explore the beautiful outdoors of Nagano. His name combines the words aruku (walk) and kuma (bear).

aomori mascot

 

Ikubee
Ikubee is ‘lets go’ in the dialect of Aomori and the name of The Aomori Destination Campaign’s mascot. The large blue fairy supposedly travelled all over Japan before finally settling down in his favorite prefecture. He’s modelled on the letter ‘A’ which of course stands for Aomori. He’s the colour blue because the first kanji in Aomori means blue and on his head is an apple blossom illustrating the flower symbol of the prefecture.

voting mascot

Ippyou
They’re not all well designed and cute, some are incredible cheap. Promoting the elections in Kagawa, Ippyou; a voting slip (Ippyou) with the kanji for ballot on his front dreams of a 100% turn out by the voters. He’s friends with Meisui-kun the mascot for promoting fair elections for the whole of Japan.

Aichi kigurumi

Toyoki
A collection of Japanese mascots wouldn’t be complete without at least one robot. Toyoki is not just a robot though, he’s a red demon robot. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city the mascot was created. Toyohashi is known for its import and export of cars, it’s many computer companies based in the city and also for its oni matsuri (demon festival). The mascot combines all these elements including the first kanji in Toyohashi 豊 which inspired the design.

Hokkaido mascot

Marimokkori
Originally from Hokkaido, Marimokkori’s merchandise can be found all over Japan. When first introduced in 2005 the character was considered too vulgar and many local shops refused to stock the goods. But after a number of celebrities were seen with Marimokkori keychains his popularity skyrocketed. Marimokkori’s name combines marimo, the green algae balls found in Hokkaido’s Lake Akan, and mokkori the sound for something sticking out. The closest word we have is probably ‘Schwing’ which explains the bulge in Marimokkori’s pants. Marimokkori souvenirs such as phone straps are particularly popular however one item where Marimokkori was dressed as a daibutsu (large Buddha) angered people so much it was eventually discontinued.

burger fur isuit

Sasebo Burger Boy
After WWII the American Navy took over parts of the base in Sasebo, Nagasaki. Soon after, enterprising Sasebo citizens started making and selling burgers to cater to the appetites of the American sailors stationed there. With its long tradition of homemade burgers Sasebo has become famous all over Japan. Takashi Yanase the king of characters famed for creating Anpanman designed the mascot. Find out more here.

Aomori mascot

Takamaru-kun
To celebrate its 400th anniversary Hirosaki Castle created the badass Takamaru-kun. The area was once called Takaoka because of the falcons (taka) that live there but renamed to Hirosaki in 1603. Takamaru-kun is wearing a kabuto, which combines the shape of the castle and the helmet worn by Tsugaru Tamenobu. Tamenobu was the first lord of area and drafted the design for the castle.

Narita mascot

Unari-kun
Narita is well known for it’s International Airport but it’s also famous for it’s large number of eel restaurants in the small city. In the past Narita had a flourishing eel (unagi) trade where they were caught locally. Now however the busiest air freight hub in Japan is more likely to have the slippery creatures flown in from either Taiwan or China. Unarikun is said to be from Unari planet, he flew to earth and searched for the best airport in world. After discovering Narita he decided to settle there and as way of thanks to the friendly citizens he now promotes the city.

ETC mascot

Mr. ETC & Ms. Karejo
Mr. Etc and his girlfriend Ms Karejo are the two mascots for the Metropolitan Expressway Company. ETC stands for Electronic Toll Collection system and is used extensively in Japan. The system allows drivers to quickly pass through tolls by automatically deducting money from their cards. Karejo, the daughter of a rich man, was born into a privileged life and has a taste for expensive things which I guess Mr ETC isn’t worrying about too much, he must be loaded from the expensive tolls people pay.

Nara kigurumi

Sento-kun
1,300 years ago Nara became the capital of Japan so to celebrate they did what any other city would do….they had a mascot created. Sento-kun combines a young Buddha with a pair of antlers (the city is famous for it’s many temples and tame deer). Sento-kun drew criticism from local residents and Buddhist groups who objected to the design and the amount of money spent on the character. The controversy propelled the character into the media which only helped increase his notoriety across the country. As a result the kimo-kawaii (scary but cute) character is probably the second most well known kigurumi in Japan. Find out more about him here.

ski mascot

Kunio
Even the ski resorts in Japan get in on the kigurumi action. Kunio a seasoned skier is the mascot for Kunizakai Kougen snow park a resort in Takashima, Shiga. Kunio started working in one of the restaurants but was quickly promoted to become the mascot for the resort. His interests include, snowboarding, ice cream and girls (in that order). Find out about more ski mascots in Japan here

Nakatsu castle kigurumi mascot

A!kanbe
Yet another castle mascot this time for Nakatsu castle in Kyushu. He might look like a slightly mental upside down miso bowl but he is in fact modelled on a kabuto. Specifically the kabuto worn by Kanbei Kuroda who first started building the castle. His expression and name also come from the word ‘akanbe‘ which is a childish gesture in Japan. To do it, use one finger to press just below your eye and pull down while sticking out your tongue and making the sound ‘behhhhhhh.’

plum mascot

Umeppi
Mascot for the Wakayama branch of Japanese Agriculture, Umeppi is a plum, one of the prefecture’s speciality fruit. He loves playing the drums and spinning around. He also has a twin sister called Mikappi who strangely isn’t a plum but a satsuma, I guess they’re non-identical.

kigurumi book

Fuzz and Fur Profiles over 100 kigurumi from across Japan with photographs and text that explains their origins, as well as their likes and dislikes. The new book is now out and available to buy from Amazon.

24 Jun

I’ve recently spotted a number of posters with eight different kigurumi in support of Japan and Tohoku. From left to right we have Ikubee from Aomori, Sento-kun from Nara, Guripuu from Kagoshima, Hachimaru from Nagoya, Nyanyo from Ehime and finally Yubarifusai from Hokkaido.

26 May

Wakayama police mascot kigurumi

Wakayama was once known as the Kishu Domain before the Edo period which explains the name of the Wakayama police mascot. There’s also a type of dog from Wakayma called the Kishu-ken. This breed was originally used to hunt boar and deer as they were often very quiet and would stalk prey silently preferring not to bark. Kishu-kun was born on July 1, 1994 and proved an extremely successful character in Wakayama where he appears on mobile phone straps, t-shirts, stuffed toys and much more. There’s also a four meter tall Idle Idol on the side of the road in Arida where my wife’s family is from. To find out about Japans other 48 police mascots head on over to Idle Idol. Top photo via.

Wakayama police mascot idle idol

Wakayama police mascot

Wakayama police mascot

20 May

beijing china olympic mascot

olympic mascots beijing

Meet Huanhuan one of the five mascots that were created for the Beijing olympics in 2008 and the first non-Japanese fursuit on the blog. The Fuwa as they are known match the colours of the Olympic Rings and carry a message of friendship and peace. I saw a version of Huanhuan at the olympic park when I recently visited Beijing. Huanhuan represents the olympic flame while the others embody the characteristics of popular animals in China, the fish, panda, Tibetan antelope and swallow.

According to the official site “When you put their names together — Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni — they say “Welcome to Beijing,” offering a warm invitation that reflects the mission of Fuwa as young ambassadors for the Olympic Games.”

The site also describes Huanhuan in more detail;

In the intimate circle of Fuwa, Huanhuan is the big brother. He is a child of fire, symbolizing the Olympic Flame and the passion of sport — and passion is the blessing he bestows. Huanhuan stands in the center of Fuwa as the core embodiment of the Olympic spirit. And while he inspires all with the passion to run faster, jump higher and be stronger, he is also open and inviting. Wherever the light of Huanhuan shines, the inviting warmth of Beijing 2008 — and the wishful blessings of the Chinese people — can be felt. The fiery designs of his head ornament are drawn from the famed Dunhuang murals — with just a touch of China’s traditional lucky designs. Huanhuan is outgoing and enthusiastic. He excels at all the ball games and represents the red Olympic ring.

I’ve seen a number of versions of the fuwa on the web including a furry slim fit costume, large round inflatable version and a more blocky inflatable set.

17 May

kigurumi for snow resorts in Japan

At many of the ski resorts in Japan you’ll find people dressed in Kigurumi but you might also be lucky enough to see the official ski resort mascot that some of the resorts have. Here are six from various places around Japan. If you know of any more let me know in the comments.

Nasuki-kun

Nasuki-kun
To start with heres Nozawa Onsen’s Nasuki-kun. Nozawa Onsen a small town in Nagano is famous for its skiing, onsen and Nozawana. The last is its speciality vegetable which provides the design inspiration for their character. Nozawana is a leaf vegetable which is often pickled. Nozawaonsen hosted the biathlon for the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Photo via Mew Mew factory.

egg mascot

Hantama-kun
On Hunter Mountain Shiobara in Tochigi you might see half a boiled egg whizzing down the slopes on skis, a snowboard or an inflatable ring. Hantama-kun the mascot for the ski resort came to life when someone cut a boiled egg in half and drew eyes with sauce. His name comes from Hunter Mountain but it also combines the words han meaning “half” and tamago meaning “egg.” Hantama-kun often has a salt shaker in his hand and sprinkles salt while shaking his yolk.

ski mascot

Kunio
Kunio is the mascot for Kunizakai Kougen snow park, a resort in Takashima, Shiga. Kunio apparently started working in a restaurant but was promoted to become the mascot for the resort. He’s very good at skiing and is improving his snowboarding skills every day. He also has a girlfriend. Photo via Kunizakai Kougen snow park’s official site.

Nigata mascot

Reruhi-san
Nigata honoured the man who is said to have introduced skiing to Japan by creating a kigurumi based on his image. Theodor von Lerch Edler was Born in 1869 in what is now Slovakia and was a Major General of the Austrian Habsburg Army and a skiing pioneer. He came to Japan as an exchange officer with the Imperial Japanese Army 100 years ago but left as an ambassador to winter leisure sports. There are a number of monuments dedicated to the man, a museum and now finally a mascot. Find out more about the man here.

Happy Hako-chan
Happy Hako-chan is the mascot for Hakoteyama in Shiga. The Square box character comes from the Hako in Hakote which means box. He likes sweet food and his favourite word is happy. Photo via the Yuru-chara organisation

Makino Kougen

Sarasa-chan
Makino Highland is a ski resort, onsen, golf course and onsen. Their mascot Sarasa-chan takes her name and look from Sarasadoudan Tsutsuji or Enkianthus a shrub with bell shaped pink tinged flowers that are found on Akasaka mountain. She’s currently on a diet and says her rival is Hikonyan. Photo via Yuru-chara organisation

20 Apr

earthquake and tsunami characters

Matt Alt alerted me to Tsunami-man after his latest blog post which looked at tsunami mascots and characters. I’ve also spotted some anthropomorphic waves on the signs beside a river near where I live but its the wonderful costumes for Tsunami-man (left) and Jishin-man (earthquake-man on the right) which interest me the most. The two characters are part of a team who warn the citizens of Kochi on the dangers of earthquakes and how to prepare oneself. Although the prefecture wasnt affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami they are well aware of the danger the prefecture faces if there’s another large earthquake, as has been predicted. Tsunami-man is described as indecisive and often gets angry while Jishin-man likes to hide in his secret underground base doing weight training. Yet again the king of characters, Takashi Yanase designed the pair. He’s of course famous for creating Anpanman but has also designed many other mascots which feature in my book including Sasebo-Burger Boy. I hope these wonderful characters can help warn people and save lives if Japan ever experiences such an awful disaster again

tsunami mascot

Earthquake mascot character

10 Apr

Tokyo election mascot

Voting kicked off in local elections across Japan with Meisui-kun encouraging people to go out and vote. Oh his chest is either his name Meisui (as shown above) or the the word senkyo which means election (below). The lines on his head represent the slots in the ballot box. He has wings on his back to help him fly forward and realise a fair election.
Photo via

Tokyo election mascot

08 Apr

hanami kigurumi 2

The season for cherry blossom viewing or hanami has finally hit Tokyo and although some parks have been reluctant to encourage the festivities people were out in full force at Yoyogi park which I visited last weekend. I met Rilakkuma (relaxed bear) doing a great job of collecting money for the survivors of the tsunami and earthquake. There were a number of kigurumin too including Stitch, a squirrel, Eeyore and Tigger. It was a little bit cold on Sunday so I’m sure the kigurumi kept them warm.

hanami kigurumi 3

hanami kigurumi 1