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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.’
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.
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.