Thursday, August 29, 2013

Are unique mascots the trump card to boost local economies?

In Japan, new unique cartoon characters are frequently created for promotional purposes. Because of our Anime and Manga culture, these characters are more likely to play an important role in promotion. As a result, our society is overflowing with cartoon characters. I even wonder if people are fed up with them. Nonetheless, new ones pop up one after another. Can you guess why?

In 2007, the mascot, "Hiko-nyan", appeared to promote events for the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle in Hikone city, Shiga prefecture (click here). This unique character gained great attention and became very popular. At the very least, it helped make the castle and city better known. Since this great success, more and more towns, cites and prefectures have been willing to have their own unique mascots. They have been jumping on the bandwagon in hope that their own mascots will help boost their local economies because they have been struggling to do that for many years.

On top of that, the cute black bear mascot, "Kuma-mon (click here)", which was created for the promotion of Kumamoto prefecture /熊本県, has proved for the last few years that mascots can be an effective way to attract more tourists. Surprisingly, the incurable popularity of Kuma-mon still shows no sign of slowing down.

Because of this boom, for the last five years, countless unique mascots have begun to promote local economies. Then, the coined Japanese word, "Yuru-kyara /ゆるキャラ (the literal translation into English is loose characters)", has become very popular as a word indicating these mascots which are distinguished from major cartoon characters like Hello Kitty (Note #1).

Chiba-kun, which is the mascot of
Chiba prefecture. With a side view,
it is shaped like Chiba prefecture.  
Needless to say, outstanding Yuru-kyara always have good gimmicks. This year, the jiggly yellow pear mascot, "Funassyi", brought fresh gimmicks to the competitive mascot world. I plant to talk about Funassyi later.

Note #1:
According to Wikipedia, a person who coined the word "Yuru-kyara" insists that Yuru kyara should have the following three features (Although I don't understand exactly what these three indicate even if I read them in Japanese, I'll try to translate them into English):
-"Yuru-kyara" are designed to delivery a strong message filled with love for the hometown.
- "Yuru-kyara"have quickly and unique behaviors and acts.
-"Yuru-kyara" have the element of being adorable loose.