Yufu Terashima, known as Yuffie, and her love (which borders on crazy) for local mascots, or yurukyara, has manifested in the form of her new single, “Iyahaya Feeling”. The new song with ten-member local mascot unit Terashima Yufu with Yuruffis will be released on November 11th.

We first found out about Yufu Terashima’s love for local mascots when she was a member of BiS. Then, after leaving Bis in 2013, she became a solo idol and started appearing more often as head MC of local mascot events. She was even head presenter for one of the largest local mascot events, the Yurukyara Grand Prix. On top of that, she also served as a local mascot attendant for the TOKYO MX broadcast of Jun Miura & Hajime Anzai no Yurukyara ni Makenai!

Not all Japanese are people are familiar with local mascots. However Yufu Terashima fans, called “Yuffie-ists”, who read her blog are inevitably exposed to an exorbitant amount of local mascot information. You could even say her style of “educating” her Yuffie-ists is actually closer to “brainwashing” them.

When Yufu Terashima talks about local mascots, she starts talking faster than usual and you can hear the tone of excitement in her voice. We decided to ask her what exactly it is about the appeal (or magic) of local mascots that has captivated her so much.


– Regarding “Iyahaya Feeling”, was there a different reaction among idol otaku and local mascot fans?

Yuffie: Local mascot fans were really pleased. They were glad to see local mascots that they usually wouldn’t be able to see, because of how far away the areas they represent are, collaborate together. Otaku fans mostly commented that, “As long as you’re having a good time that’s what’s most important.” or “Seeing my favorite idol happy makes me happy, too.”

– So it was kind of the opposite of what you said before about, “If my otaku fans are happy then I’m happy,” right?

Yuffie: It is. (laugh) When they saw how much I was grinning in the MV, they were happy, but a little sad, saying, “You look different there than you do with us.” (laugh) There were also otaku fans looking forward to seeing me pictured together with local mascots and looking like an otaku myself.


– Speaking of which, it’s usually free to go and see local mascots. Is the culture there a little different from going to see idols?

Yuffie: That’s a really difficult one. Local mascots are doing PR for their local areas, so they allow you to take as many pictures as you want, but there are people who buy my CDs so they can take a picture with me, so the boundaries is a little difficult. But otaku fans understand that there’s this type of culture when seeing local mascots, or this type of culture when seeing idols, so I hope that more local mascot fans can understand that as well and hopefully will come to see my concerts? Right now it’s free to take pictures during the release event, but after “Iyahaya Feeling” is released and we’re doing the Tomei Osaka tour, I want to slowly try and find a way to encourage local mascot fans to buy tickets. I wonder if it will be easy for local mascot and idol fans to come together for the tour and the solo concert? I’d like to make a “bring your friends to a show” day. (laugh)

– Are there local mascots overseas?

Yuffie: Not really; there are a few at embassies and tourism organizations, but for the most part they’re a Japanese thing. There’s Shalo-um chan at the Israeli embassy and Saipanda! (A play on “Saipan”, “panda” and the phrase “Saipan da!” which translates to “This is Saipan!”) in Saipan, but they’re mostly there to appeal to Japanese people. I haven’t found any local mascots in New York. (laugh)

– On the other hand, why do you think there are so many local mascots in Japan?

Yuffie: Jun Miura once said, “Because Japan has a culture of 8 million gods, it’s easy to turn anything into a character here.”


-What do you think the differences between mascot characters and local mascots are?

Yuffie: Originally local mascots (yurukyara) were created to become mascot characters. There’s even mascots for Japanese baseball teams. But Mr. Miura noticed that local mascots are strange ones that local governments have created. At first there was some backlash against calling them “yurukyara” (literally, a “weak mascot character”), but that changed after cute characters like Hikonyan (the local mascot of Hikone, Shiga prefecture) started coming out. There’s a distinction between “before Hikonyan” and “after Hikonyan”. (laugh) Mr. Miura also noticed that until then, only those in the know knew about them. He felt there were a lot of local government characters that were like, “What kind of design is this?” and he began buying and collecting their items.

– Did you begin to like local mascots before Hikonyan or after Hikonyan?

Yuffie: I only became aware of local mascots after. My area has a garbage collection character and I started to like it because it struck me as “Cute!” but it was a feeling only my mother and I shared. (laugh) Even my friends were like, “Why do you care so much about it?” and it went over their heads, but after Hikonyan people started talking about it more and I was grateful. After Chiba-kun (Chiba prefecture’s local mascot) came out when I was in high school, everyone started paying attention to weak mascots. After Hikonyan, local mascot designs became simpler. Until then they incorporated specialty items from that area. Like Fukka-chan (Fukaya, Saitama prefecture’s local mascot) has leeks growing out of her head and a cute face.


– How are Japanese local mascots and characters overseas different?

Yuffie: Characters like Mickey Mouse are very expressive. I think some people find the way some major Japanese characters have no expressions scary, and that this is one cultural difference.

– But, for example, isn’t Kitty-chan (Kitty White/Hello Kitty) popular overseas?

Yuffie: She is. There’s something fashionable about her, and I’d be glad to see more characters follow in Kitty-sempai’s footsteps.

– And you say that because? (laugh)

Yuffie: Because it’s like that. (laugh) Sanrio characters are much different because they aren’t promoting any local area. Pom Pom Purin and Gudetama are popular with Asians, who often believe that “yellow things bring good luck”. There are three different Pom Pom Purin café locations, and I also saw people from overseas at them. There are a lot of overseas visitors at the Sanrio Shop, too. But the Sanrio Shop is an actual store, where as it would be more difficult for foreign visitors to purchase local mascot items when they come to Japan, and not very much information about local mascots reaches those overseas.


– How about you help us start a “Tokyo Yuruchara Update” section on Tokyo Girl’s Update? Is there a certain character you’re cheering for in the Yurukyara Grand Prix? Because there are so many active local mascots, from the outside it seems like it would be hard to just cheer for one.

Yuffie: Well because I’m doing Yuruffis it’s a lot easier, and I’m cheering for our members Fukka-chan, Unari-kun (Narita, Chiba prefecture’s local mascot), and Shinjo-kun (Susaki, Aichi prefecture’s local mascot).

– So out of ten characters, only three are in the Yurukyara Grand Prix?

Yuffie: Well, the reason why the other seven aren’t participating is because some of them were like, “Even though we turned down participating, we’d like to cheer on and vote for Fukka-chan.” Fukka-chan is working hard to make this year her last go at it.


– Do other local mascots think about one another?

Yuffie: Local mascots consider the burden it places on their fans to become the winner of the Grand Prix. In Fukka-chan’s case, there was a kickoff party and polling stations placed around Fukaya City, and if you go to city hall they’ll tell you where they are. If you visit Fukka-chan’s local area and talk to the people there about her it would make them happy; in her local area people love her as if she were God-like. I think this is something that is uniquely Japanese, and something you don’t really see in monotheistic countries.

– Do you think many of the readers of Tokyo Girls’ Update are from monotheistic countries?

Tokyo Girls’ Update: I guess most of them are.

– Then they won’t be able to understand it overseas! (laugh)

Yuffie: Now I’m worried. (laugh) But at handshake events, when I talk to people who have traveled a long way about their local mascots, they’re surprised like, “You know all that?!” and it makes any nervousness fade away. It’s amazing. I think loving so many local mascots is has been like a token of friendship. (laugh)


– I can’t imagine there’s a local mascot that you don’t know about. You put pictures of them on your blog and asked fans what their names were, too.

Yuffie: There are many I don’t know about! But there are those who will tell me about them if I don’t know them, and who are happy to introduce their local characters. Usually idol and fan communication is one on one, right? But you can also communicate with local mascots as a kind of go-between.

– Besides you, do you know of any other local mascot and idol combos?

Yuffie: There are local idol and mascot combos. Like Bary-san (Imabari, Ehime prefecture’s local mascot) and Himekyun Fruits Can, RYUTist and local mascots in Niigata, or Negicco and Lerch-san (local mascot in Niigata prefecture).

– Bary-san is from Ehime prefecture? I didn’t know that.

Yuffie: People are introduced to different local areas through their local mascots, or that’s the ideal anyways, and in that way Bary-san is admirable. (laugh).

– Are you the first person in Japan to come out with a single with local mascots from around the country?

Yuffie: Besides area alone, I think this is the first time an idol has rounded up so many local mascots.


– What kind of guidelines did you use to choose which characters would be a part of Yuruffis?

Yuffie: That’s difficult to say. At the very beginning Ariake Gatagoro (Ariake Sea, Saga prefecture’s local mascot) made a parody of BiS called ByS, and Yuruffis was formed as a five-member group. It was made up of Ariake Gatagoro, Fukka-chan, Sasa Dangon (a local mascot of Niigata prefecture), Unari-kun, and an understudy named Chosei Tonyu-kun (Akihabara, Tokyo’s local mascot). We would perform random concerts when we got together, so this time it was great we were able to turn that into a CD. Five new members were chosen as a power up. Being too far apart would be difficult, and they were chosen for their cuteness, friendliness, and dancing and singing.


– The local mascots are singing, too?

Yuffie: Peccary (Bizen, Okayama prefecture’s local mascot) sings the chorus. He can’t talk, but he can sing.

– As far as the music goes, I get the impression that Okazaemon (Okazaki, Aichi prefecture’s local mascot) would be the type to play the theremin (an electronic musical instrument).

Yuffie: Okazaemon is much more knowledgeable about music. He even appears at Okazaki’s jazz festival, Sasakure Fest. But this time he’s our thin leader. (laugh)

– Do local mascots have leadership roles, too?

Yuffie: The first set of members did. Fukka-chan was the honor student leader, Ariake Gatagoro was the dirty leader, Sasa Dangon was the group dating leader, and Unari-kun was the “eel guy” leader. (laugh) This time Shinjo-kun is the surrealist leader, Mikke-chan (Hirakata, Osaka’s local mascot) is the girl power leader. There are also those whose roles haven’t formally been decided. (laughs)

– On November 3rd you did a solo concert at Sanrio Puroland. Do you consider those Sanrio characters to be local mascots, too?

Yuffie: That’s hard to say. There are some people who view them that way, but others who believe they’re too professional and are part of an entirely different world altogether. This time Yuruffis were invited to Sanrio Puroland and they were able to interact together. Sanrio allowed it, saying, “Our goal is to make the world come together,” so they really are gods!


– In the MV for “Iyahaya Feeling” the local mascots appear in a public bathhouse, and the video is full of unique Japanese culture.

Yuffie: Showing local mascots in places you normally wouldn’t see them was part of the concept. Because local mascots don’t like water, it has a kind of mismatched feeling. On the wall of the bathhouse there’s a picture of Mt. Fuji, making for a lot of Japanese-style things in it. I think it would be great for local mascots and idols to have a worldwide reach. And now Tokyo Girls’ Update has offered to feature them so I’m glad. When comments suddenly starting coming from those abroad after uploading “Neko ni Naritai!” (single released in 2014) to YouTube, I thought it was easy for people to appreciate because it featured local mascots and a black-haired idol. I hope local mascots, bathhouses, and idols are able to reach people overseas.

– Do you consider idols, like yourself, to as something Japanese?

Yuffie: Oh dear, I would think so. I think idols that stand out with a strong impact like Denpagumi.inc, BABYMETAL, and LADYBABY are well-received overseas, and I hope idols that are different from that will also be well-received. If I were to go abroad I wonder if they would see me as too plain or as something new…?


– Your graduation thesis dealt with the theme “local mascots as ‘stories”. I get the feeling “Iyahaya Feeling” ties into that.

Yuffie: I really think so, too. I was glad I was able to organize my thoughts at the time. I’m glad I didn’t try to write about Japanese literature just to look cool. (laugh)

– What kind of audience would you like “Iyahaya Feeling” to be heard by?

Yuffie: I want local mascot fans to listen to it. I want them to be reminded of just how cute local mascots are. I also want idol otaku to get to know the appeal of local mascots. …Which is why I put it out. (laugh) I couldn’t make local mascots a huge thing at my school, but my otaku fans understand, so those who are interested should go and educate themselves about them. (laugh)


– I certainly feel as if I’ve learned a lot about local mascots while reading your Twitter and blog…

Yuffie: Well done! (laugh) There hasn’t been anything yet as cute as this MV we’re putting out, it has a bright and fun melody, and everything is emphasized in the hopes that even small children will listen to it. I thought it would be good for an otaku to make something that’s sparkly and happy.

– On that note, do you think the local mascots operate in the same way as the idol business?

Yuffie: I think it depends on the local mascot. But I think local mascots have continued this far because of the amount of love in the business. There’s really a lot of love behind Fukka-chan’s management. I think as far as having love behind their businesses, local mascots and idols are the same.

img-interview-yuffy-yuru-25

Buy CD here:

Iyahaya Feeling / Yufu Terashima with Yuruffies

Iyahaya Feeling / Yufu Terashima with Yuruffies

Iyahaya Feeling / Yufu Terashima with Yuruffies


Related Links:
Yufu Terashima Official Website:https://yufuterashima.com
Yufu Terashima Official Twitter:@yufu_0708

Photo by kobadog
Translated by Jamie Koide

Author
munekata
munekata

Born in 1972, Akimasa Munekata is a music critic who has written for MUSIC MAGAZINE and Record Collectors for rock in Japan after HAPPY END, pop, the flow of western rock and pop after Beach Boys, world music, and folk music. Recently, he has hopped on the bandwagon and begun writing about idols as well.

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