They are characterized by their cute and unsophisticated designs, and often incorporating motifs that represent local culture, history or produce. They may be created by local government or other organizations to stimulate tourism and economic development, or created by a company to build n their corporate identity. They may appear as costumed characters (called kigurumi in Japanese) at promotional events and festivals. Yuru-chara has become a popular and lucrative business, with character-driven sales reaching nearly $16 billion in Japan in 2012.
First of all, I will introduce you the most popular mascots in Japan.
Kumamoto represents Kumamoto prefecture in the Kyushu region, southwestern part of Japan. He is now “Japan’s most popular bear.” He attracts a diverse range of people, from children to adults who are charmed by his plump, black body, red cheeks, and wide-open eyes as if looking surprised, saying how adorable he is.
Among lots of municipal PR mascot characters from all around Japan, he won the first place in a nationwide popularity vote in 2011. Ever since, Kumamon has appeared in numerous places, including events and product campaigns, rising to the seat of Japan’s representative mascot character that transcends prefectural boundaries.
To begin with, wild bears do not exist in Kumamoto prefecture. Kumamoto was conceived from the link between the kanji characters used in the prefecture name, “Kuma” which means a bear in Japanese. Incidentally, the “Mon” in the latter half of the name signifies “Mono (Person)” in the local dialect.
Some people in his local Kumamoto prefecture voice their expectations for Kumamon to “develop into a world-class character that rivals Mickey Mouse.” C’mon guys, let’s help it!! Kumamon go to worldwide!
Unofficially representing the city of Funabashi, Chiba. It was created by a citizen of Funabashi to promote his/her own website. It later appeared at events, festivals, TV programs and commercials, gaining popularity all over Japan.
In recent years, Funabashi has become world famous thanks to their mascot, Funassyi who is a bright yellow genderless “pear fairy” that has millions of fans in Japan. Now, Funabashi is known for growing delicious pears, which are called “nashi” in Japanese.
Funassy has already made over 10 commercials including for a local tea brand, for Fuji Film and others within only a few years. It also won many awards such as the first place at the Japan Department Store Association’s Local Character General Election 2013, and a first place in the Voice Ringtone Category of Japan’s RecoChoku Annual Ranking 2013.
Gaining popularity in Taiwan, Hong Kong, US and London, Funassy’s “economic benefits” are said to have grown from several hundred million yen in 2013 to 800 billion yen in 2014.
What makes Funassy so different from his countless cohorts of colorful characters?
At first glance, one may think his bright yellow color, sparkling eyes and perpetual smile is nothing new for a country with an army of crazy characters like Sanomaru, a white puppy-like mascot from Sano city with an upside down ramen bowl on his head, or Okazaemon, a creepy ghost-like character from Okazaki prefecture.
However, the moment Funassy starts dancing widely and emphatically hyping up the crowd in his high-pitched voice, ending sentences with his catchphrase “nashiiii!” (Pear!). That is the Funassy’s undeniable charisma, and because of that this mascot becomes an unforgettable presence.
Other prefectures are hoping to replicate Funassy and Kumamon’s enormous commercial success by releasing their own yuru-chara, in an effort to attract regional tourism and land national ad campaigns of their own.
Although Funassyi’s stardom currently remains limited to Japan, it’s not unbelievable to imagine his following expanding worldwide, placing him among the ranks of other Japanese icons that became multi-billion-dollar icons.
The creators of Kumamon and Funassyi are hoping for the kind of global fame as Japanese icons Hello Kitty and Pikachu.
Have you ever wondered how Kumamon suddenly burst into the spotlight back in 2011? It was the result of his victory in the national mascot character contest, the Yuru-chara Grand Prix. The contest has been held every year since 2010 and Kumamon was the first major winner in 2011.
Voting the annual contest runs from August to October every year and people are eligible to vote for their favorite character (usually the one representing their own or prefecture) once a day for the duration of the contest. Well, the results for the 2014 contest are finally in, and it looks like a certain entrant took the win by a nose.
Congratulations to Gunma chan!
After taking third prize in both 2012 and 2013, Gunma chan from Gunma prefecture was finally named the champion.
So, what is Gunma chan? Gunma chan is a cute little pony from Gunma prefecture. Created in1983, he then was the mascot of the 38th Athletics National Festival taking place in Gunma. He got a little redesigned since then: from a horse walking on four legs, he became an adorable brown pony walking on his hind legs and wearing a green hat. His name has changed too since he used to be called Yuuma. In 2008, he became Gunma to represent Gunma prefecture, which keeps him quite busy. Now, he got his own blog, Facebook page, house (a store actually), choreography and cookies.
The question of whether or not Gunma chan will be the next Kumamon is one that only time can answer. But the winners from the past two years, Bari san from Ehime prefecture’s Imabari City (2012) and Sanomaru kun from Tochigi prefecture (2013) barely scratched the surface of popularity that their senior has.
Do you want to take a photo with them?yes, you can take a photo together with. Gunma chan, Kumamon or Funassyi are the most popular Yuru-chara in Japan and the worldwide.