What is "Yuru-kyara’'? Loose Characters? Crazy Japanese Mascots

 If you visit Japan, you might be confused about how often you stumble on cartoon characters here and there. Many kids are crazy about cool characters from cartoon (aka Anime) series and lovely mascots like Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma are popular among people regardless of age and sex.

  In Japan, mascots called "yuru-kyara’' are rapidly taking over the nation.

  Yuru-kyara (literally means “loose characters”) are the character mascots designed for promoting just about anything you can think of–cities, prefectures, companies, brands, projects, events, sports teams, products and more. Well I think it’s not surprising anymore that in Japan, the land of cute and cuddly, pretty much everything has a fuzzy mascot.

  In January 2013, 141 yuru-kyara from 25 prefectures across the country gathered in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, to make their mark on history by becoming the largest group of mascots ever to do the same dance together. If, during the 5-minute song, less that 5% of the characters were out of sync or made mistakes, they would get a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest group of mascots that perform a synchronized dance.

  Although the yuru-kyara earnestly and enthusiastically shook their tiny arms and bulbous bodies to the music, they twice failed meet the requirements. However, 134 mascots put in a flawless performance on the third try and succeeded in setting the record! I watched the video of this historical moment on YouTube. Congratulatory music played and the characters jumped around hugging each other, completely lost in the moment. Could there be any happier sight on Earth than more than one hundred of giant cuddly creatures dancing and embracing? I think not. 

  There is even "Yuru-kyara Grand Prix" held every year. After winning the title of Japan’s most popular mascot of the year 2011, Kumamon, the bear character of Kumamoto prefecture that has big round spooky eyes and red cheeks, has been by far the coolest mascot in Japan to date.

  I have never been into any kinds of characters for as long as I can remember, but I have to admit that this half-deranged, drug addicted, potentially violent bear is somehow irresistibly adorable. His simple style and strong personality make him the ideal character mascot in Japan.

  Since his release in March 2010, Kumamon worked hard to publicize the attractions of Kumamoto in many events in different areas (he even tried bungee jumping), to draw tourists to Kumamoto with the opening of the Kyushu Shinkansen, or a new bullet train line in the southern Japanese prefectures in 2011.
  The strategy paid off. Riding on the wave of his popularity, Kumamon’s image is now everywhere and he has made a number of appearances in the media The effect of advertising for 2010 was estimated to have generated around 640 million yen for Kumamoto, and the sales of the related products for 2011 were more than 2,500 million yen.

  Unfortunately for diligent Kumamon fans though, he relinquished the title as No.1 yuru-kyara to Barii-san last year. 

  He is the kind of simple mascot that people like, complete with an adorably stupid kind of huggability. Acting as the mascot for Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture, he is apparently a portly bird of some sort, and his accessories represent local Imabari products: the haramaki stomach band is made from towel material, as towels are a major Imabari product, and the ship tucked into his haramaki represents the town’s shipbuilding industry. FYI, he also won the yuru-kyara Sumo Tournament too. As you can tell from the picture above, he's pretty huge. He carries all before one with his unfair tackling.

  Luckily, I managed to get Barii-san mascots in Ehime prefecture when we visited Dougo Onsen as a company trip the other day. I felt like I contributed somewhat to the boosting the local economy by buying stuffed cuddy animals. 

  This situation, where people can get so crazy about cute and sometimes creepy mascots throughout the nation, may seem childish to some (or most) people. I believe, however, that these characters can sometimes be a great way for getting people to know about and become interested in the companies, organizations or areas. 

  Why not focus on these characters next time you come visit Japan?  You may realize that although they look "loose" at first, they're actually working pretty hard in their job. (But I just hope they don’t work too hard in sweltering summer heat)


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