Cute Mascots
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Written by Lauren Goschnick   

Cute Mascots


Cuteness goes a long way in Japan. Cute features prominently in Japanese popular culture from toys, entertainment, clothing and food to personal appearance, mannerisms and behaviour. This cultural trend embodies an innocence associated with childhood, which some foreign observers find juvenile. For many others though, Japanese cuteness is very intriguing.

While cute emerged from Japanese youth culture in the 1970s and 1980s, it has generally been accepted by children, teens and adults of all ages. Tomoyuki Sugiyama, author of Cool Japan, believes that ‘cuteness’ is rooted in the idea of Japan as a harmony-loving nation and Nobuyoshi Kurita, sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo states that ‘cute’ is a magical term that includes all that is acceptable and desirable in Japan. Other social commentators, like Hiroto Murasawa, professor at Osaka Shoin Women’s University, believes cuteness breeds weakness and non-assertion. Indeed, cuteness does nothing to propel feminism in a culture that is tradionally sexist.

Nonetheless, cute Japanese characters proliferate and have extended beyond anime and video games. Pikachu, the popular yellow Pokemon adorns the Boeing 747 passenger jets of All Nippon Airways and Monkichi is a monkey that appears on the box of a line of condoms. Surprisingly, local and federal government use character mascots to promote services and local tourism.

Increasingly, local governments are promoting their mascots to attract tourism and boost local development and these mascots, or ‘yuru kyara’ are proving quite popular. ‘Yuru kyara’ means ‘loose character’ and refers to the imperfect nature of the mascots, which are often designed by citizens or local government officials and are noticeably less sophisticated than corporate mascots and anime characters.

Yuru kyara are becoming so popular people have started collectors’ meeting and events across Japan as some yuru kyara are becoming famous not only locally, but nationally. Last year saw the popularity in the mascots grow and it is believed to be because of their relaxed and endearing nature – a growing trend in Japan. In recent years there has been a move away from fast paced living as the Japanese embrace coziness and relaxation.

The most famous yuru kyara is Hiko-nyan, a cat that beckons happiness with its paw and wears a red samurai helmet. Hiko-nyan was created for an event in 2007 to mark the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle in Hikone City. Hiko-nyan still appears for tourists three times a week and on weekends in the castle grounds. The cat received 7,800 New Years greeting cards at the beginning of this year.

The second most popular yuru kyara is Sento-kun, created for the celebration of the 1,300th anniversary of Japan’s ancient capital Nara, which is to take place in 2010. Sento-kun is a depiction of a young Buddhist boy monk with antlers on his head. The official mascot symbolizes the regions famous deer population and ancient Buddhist culture. Sento-kun attracted widespread criticism for being too ugly and creepy after being unveiled in February this year. But it seems all publicity is good publicity as sales of Sento-kun merchandise including calendars, badges and pens appears to be going strong.

Yuru kyara from local governments in Tokyo have participated in an obstacle course, sumo wrestling competitions and other athletic events. In October 2008 Forty-six thousand visitors attended the Kuru Kyara Festival in Hikone, where they came to see the 46 yuru kyara from all over Japan.

With yuru kyara taking on celebrity status, it appears that Japan’s fascination with cuteness is not going away anytime soon.



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