You can’t stay in Japan for long before meeting a character mascot. Cities, prefectures, companies, all have a cute mascot to personify and represent them to the public. Sometimes they are controversial, such as when Nara combined two things it is most famous for—deer and the Great Buddha—to make a mascot in the form of a cute infant Buddha with antlers. The effect was oddly disturbing.
Character mascots have been in the news this month because the annual character mascot grand prix took place in Saitama prefecture. This year’s overall winner was Bari-san, an egg-shaped bird character representing Imabari city (a major producer of yakitori chicken).
This is the mascot of the central ward of Osaka city, Yumemaru-kun. I met him outside the gas building one day at lunchtime. He is wearing Osaka castle on his head.
This is Koya-kun, the mascot of Koya-san, the mountain monastic settlement that we visited earlier this month:
One of the mascots of Sakai city, where we live, is Sakaeru. He represents a 16th-century European (a Dutchman, judging by his shoes), reminding us of Sakai’s importance in the early days of contact and trade between Japan and Europe.
Hanging from a strap around Sakaeru’s neck is a mini-mascot called Misosakai. Misosakai is a helmeted, near-spherical brown bird.
Another mascot of Sakai city is Zabieru-kun, a Portuguese character. You can see him riding in this ship in the parade; he’s the one in the green hat. While the original St Francis Xavier tried to bring Christianity to Japan, his modern namesake promotes “eco” living.
Also at the Sakai festival was Mimi-chan, the mascot of Sakai city’s Minami ward.
Marching in the parade was Chin-den-kun, the mascot of the Hankai tram (known affectionately as the Tin Tin Train).