The UK may have some quirky mascots when it comes to national football clubs, but the variety and number is nothing compared to the plethora of cute and cuddly characters which Japan employs. You might recognise some of the more popular mascots from pop culture or internet memes, including the brown and furry Dōmo-kun from NHK TV, or the black bear Kumamon who attracts tourists to the Kumamoto Prefecture. These guys aren’t just for show, and can have some really positive effects on the tourism industry, much like the country’s feline train station masters.
One of the best places to see these mascots get together has been Yura-Kyara Grand Prix, an event where voters can choose a winner from the hundreds of soft and sweet mascots who compete in friendly competition. However, having run for almost a decade the Yura-Kyara Grand Prix has officially come to an end, with the final event hosted in Iwate Prefecture on the 4th of October.
It’s certainly a disappointment for the citizens of the world to lose one of the most wholesome events on the Japanese calendar. In the past we’ve seen winners like the ramen bowl wearing samurai dog Sonamaru, and the controversial river otter Shijyou kun from Kochi Prefecture. The runners-up have been great as well, with unusual entrants including Kanagawa’s chaotic mixture of shrimp and strawberry designs worn by a cat (Ebi-nya!). The now iconic Kumamon was actually the first mascot to win the Yura-Kyara Grand Prix!
The reasons behind the event’s cancellation show that the scale of the Grand Prix may be accelerating too fast, for what was originally intended as a way for prefectures to recover from problems and revitalise tourism. A significant number of mascots are now sent not to spread love, but to publicise organisations and companies, which may well have something to do with the very positive PR and economic boost that the winners can generate. Prefectures have been getting overcompetitive too, and the event has been less congenial and friendly, and more of a race to the top. It’s a shame that it’s reached this point, but it’s comforting to know that organisers weren’t willing give in to the commercial wave.
The final winner and most likely the last champion we’ll see is Takata no Yumechan. An ambassador from Takata City created after Rikuzentaka was hit by a tsunami. She’s here to bring happiness and joy, leading children to safety using the star atop her head. It’s a heart-warming way for the event to come to an end, but it’s a shame that we won’t be able to see the characters gathered together in the same way.
Just because the Yura Kyara Grand Prix has ended, that doesn’t mean the mascots will stop their hard work keep spirits and tourism up in their prefectures! On top of that, there are still hundreds of odd mascots wandering Japan who might not have shown up for the competition. You can always check them out on twitter!