The Yuru-Chara Grand Prix is annually held in Japan where the public chooses their favorite yuru-chara i.e. costumed mascot characters representing local governments and companies. These characters are seen as a means to create awareness of and promote the local governments and corporations for tourism and business purposes. Online voting usually begins from July and ends in October followed by a two-day festival held at a different location every year where the visitors can participate in the yuru-charas’ promotional activities and vote on the spot.
This 2016, the new voting system gives increased weightage to the votes cast personally as each festival vote is worth 4 online votes. A total of 1,421 entries (Japanese only), of which 579 were from corporations and 11 were from overseas, took part in the contest. The 2016 edition was held for the first time in western Japan at Matsuyama City’s Shiroyama Park Grass Square (城山公園芝生広場) in Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県). Besides booths showcasing the yuru-charas taking part in the contest, there were also food stalls providing a variety of delicacies for the visitors.
The 2017 edition of the Yuru-Chara Grand Prix (Japanese only) will be held at Kuwana City’s (桑名市) Nagashima Resort (ナガシマリゾート) in Mie Prefecture (三重県) on 18 and 19 November so you may wish to keep these dates in mind when making your travel plans.
For now, let’s meet the top 5 winners of the 2016 contest and find out more about what makes them so endearing and appealing to the public. You might also get some ideas for new locations to add to your itinerary when planning your next trip in Japan!
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Shinjou-kun is the mascot for Susaki City in Kochi Prefecture (高知県須崎市) based on the Nihon-Kawauso (ニホンカワウソ) i.e. Japanese river otter that was last sighted in the city’s Shinjou River (新荘川) and the city’s signature dish, nabeyaki ramen. Its name is taken from the Shinjou River and has the meaning of leaving behind beautiful offsprings as long as possible.
The current Shinjou-kun is actually the second generation yuru-chara because the original version created in 2002 was renewed due to criticism about its outdated appearance. Coupled with the Nihon-Kawauso’s designation as an extinct species by the Ministry of the Environment in 2012, it provided the perfect timing for Shinjou-kun to be re-designed. As such, after an open call for designs from applicants nationwide, the second generation Shinjou-kun was revealed to the public on 28 April 2013.
Here is Shinjou-kun’s profile (Japanese only) as mentioned on its official website:
Birthday: 28 April
Age: About 5 years old
Interests: Being fashionable and anime
Strengths: Dancing and swimming
Favorite food: Small dried sardines, ham, nabeyaki ramen, and mejika (a type of fish)
Shinjou-kun goes around searching for his friends and promotes the city while on his travels nationwide. The nabeyaki ramen hat which he wears can be removed so whenever he makes a new friend, he will put his hat on the person’s head. It is also believed that his belly button brings good fortune to whoever touches it. He is active on social media and the Internet with his own blog (Japanese only), Facebook, and Twitter pages, so you can find out more about and interact with him through these channels.
To date, Shinjou-kun has participated in the Yuru-Chara Grand Prix four times since 2013 when it got No. 14. For the next two years, it was ranked No. 4 and it finally grabbed the title this 2016. Apparently, it was ranked No. 2 in terms of online votes but managed to surge ahead thanks to the votes received at the two-day festival.
Hanipon is the official PR mascot for Honjo City in Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県本庄市) which has been in use since 22 October 2010. Out of 1,150 designs received nationwide, the winning design from a graphic designer living at Nakano Ward in Tokyo was selected. As for the name, it was selected after an open call for suggestions and comes from the smiling clay terracotta figure Haniwa (Hani) holding a shield that was excavated from an archaeological site located within the city in 1998 and the name of the city (Hon).
On Hanipon’s official website (automatic translation available), its profile is stated as such:
Height: About 2 meters
Width: 1.3 meters
Birthday: 28 August (rhymes with the word “haniwa”)
Charm points: Smiling face, big ears, cheeks with sakura designs, and shoulders resembling the shape of a shield
Character traits: Energetic, strong sense of justice, and a scatterbrain who keeps bumping his head
Motto: “Warau kado ni wa fuku kitaru (笑う門には福来る),” which means good fortune and happiness will come to the home of whoever smiles
Hobbies: Visiting ancient tombs
Special skills: Making people smile
Problems: Troubled over being mistaken as a beetle
Dream: To let everyone know about Honjo City and make everyone in Honjo City smile
Hanipon first appeared at the Honjo Waseda no Mori Machibiraki Festa (本庄早稲田の杜まちびらきフェスタ) in 2010 and went to Paris, France for its maiden interaction trip in 2013. When Hanipon made its debut in the 2014 Yuru-Chara Grand Prix, it got No. 67 and improved its ranking to No. 7 in the 2015 edition. This 2016, although Hanipon had been No. 1 during most of the voting period except for August and September when it was No. 2, it was overtaken by Shinjou-kun in the end and settled for the silver medal.
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Chuppy hails from Soja City in Okayama Prefecture (岡山県総社市) which is famous for food products such as rice, grapes, peaches, celery, yukibune monaka, peanut tofu, and sake. In 2008, the city wanted to come up with a logo to promote its efforts in making Soja a place suitable for raising children and chose a design from a university student.
At the time of the city’s request for design suggestions, it was already specified that the copyrights of the character design belonged to the city government but there were some issues which contradicted the legal moral rights of an author (Japanese only). As such, the city faces the difficulty of using Chuppy freely for its promotional efforts as they need to get the approval from the design’s author so the range of related merchandise is considerably lesser compared to other yuru-charas. This could also be why Chuppy has a limited presence on the Internet as it only has a Twitter page.
Last 2015, Chuppy got No. 15 in the Yuru-Chara Grand Prix and managed to improve its ranking greatly to No. 3 this 2016.
Tochisuke represents Tochigi City in Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県栃木市) and was created on 5 April 2014 to commemorate the merger between Iwafune-machi (岩舟町) and Tochigi City. It is modeled to look like a fairy of a warehouse who works as an employee of the city government to promote Tochigi and make people feel warmth and happiness. In Tochigi, the local residents can even get a Tochisuke-design car license plate if they apply for it.
Tochisuke made its presence felt during its debut appearance in the Yuru-Chara Grand Prix where it soared to a high position of No. 8 out of 1,699 characters. Since then, it has performed well in the annual contest with two Top 10 finishes in the past two years.
Takinomichi Yuzuru is the official character of Minoh City in Osaka Prefecture (大阪府箕面市) which was created with the aim of promoting the city’s natural sights to everyone in Japan. Subsequently, he was also tasked to promote the city’s signature produce of yuzu. On his birthday on 26 July, there is a celebration party in his honor held during the Minoh Matsuri.
Back in 2009, the city government held an open call for designs from the public and settled on two designs which were put up for voting by the city’s residents. In the end, the winning design from a Kitakyushu City resident in Fukuoka won 2,327 votes out of 4,137. Subsequently, during the contest asking for name suggestions, the name Takinomichi Yuzuru was selected for its reference to Minoh’s tourism spot, Minoh no Takimichi, and its famous yuzu.
Takinomichi Yuzuru has done pretty well since it took part in the first Yuru-Chara Grand Prix in 2010 when it got No. 14. It has consistently ranked in the Top 15 every year and jumped from No. 13 in 2015 to No. 5 this 2016. In addition, it has also been the No. 1 among the entries in the Yuru-Chara Grand Prix from the Kinki region and Osaka Prefecture for the past 5 years! As such, this speaks volumes of the character’s popularity among the public.
Now that you’ve met the Top 5 winners of the Yuru-Chara Grand Prix 2016, has any of them caught your fancy? Be sure to meet them in person if you are traveling to the cities they represent!
Yuru-Chara Grand Prix Website *Japanese only