Yurukyara Boom: Cute and Wierd Mascot Characters Taking Over Japan
Yurukyara, have been gaining in popularity over the last few years as characters that promote businesses, regional areas, or Japan in general. They are often cute, but also sometimes weird, and incorporate symbols of the companies or of the region that they come from. Every year there is also a competition in which yurukyaras from all over Japan assemble to compete to be named the Number 1 Yurukyara of Japan called the Yurukyara Grand Prix. Though these yurukyaras look adorable in their mascot costumes, don’t underestimate how successful they can be.
First of all, what does yurukyara even mean? Yurukyara originally comes from Yurui Mascot Character and is sometimes spelled as yuru-chara. Yurui is shortened to yuru and character is shortened to kyara or chara. Yurui means slow, or loose, and it’s used with these characters to mean characters that are less specifically designed and sometimes seem almost incomplete.
One of the most famous and successful yurukyaras of all time is Kumamon, who won the Grand Prix competition in 2011. Kumamon was created by the government in the prefecture of Kumamoto in the south of Japan originally to attract tourists to the new express train, the Kyushu Shinkansen. But, by last year in 2016, Kumamon had become so popular that the sales for Kumamon goods and items skyrocketed to over a billion dollars. This is largely due to, though, support from other prefectures after the series of earthquakes that hit Kumamoto last year.
Funassyi from the city of Funabashi in Chiba prefecture also takes a spot in the Yurukyara hall of fame. Unlike Kumamon, who was created by the government, the character of Funassyi was made by an individual who wanted to promote the area that it lived in. The character is a pear, or nashi, and interestingly its favorite food is also pears. Funassyi is known to be unique since it speaks whereas most yurukyaras do not, and says ~nassyi after every phrase. It’s also known to jump up and down erratically. Funassyi has also been quite successful selling goods, selling every household item you can think of, including phone cases, stationary, tableware, clothing, food, toothbruses, shower caps, etc. with the Funassyi character on them.
Although they may be extremely cute, yurukyaras have also started to play a large role in popularizing regional areas. Those that win in the Yurukyara Grand Prix receive a lot of media attention and opportunities for cities to advertise the great parts of their city or companies to advertise themselves. Last year there were 1421 applicants and Shinjyou-kun, who represented Susaki city of Kouchi prefecture came out on top. The character incorporates the popular food of Susaki city, nabeyaki ramen, or ramen cooked in a hot pot, on his head.
This year the Yurukyara Grand Prix will be held in Kuwana city, in Mie prefecture where Yumehama-chan serves as the mascot. But, I’m personally rooting for the character of Niiza City, Zoukirin. In Japanese zou means elephant and kirin means giraffe, therefore Zoukirin is an elephant-giraffe. It might not be the most creative name, but the character is still adorable. Apparently the name comes from zoukibayashi, which means a grove of mixed trees in Japanese, and can be read, if you take the characters apart, as Zoukirin. This city that advertises its abundant nature and zoukibayashi decided to make their character out of a pun on the word.
Recently though, there has been a new character that has been rumored to become the new trending character in Japan. His name is Fami-Chiki Senpai, and he serves as the mascot for the popular convenient store chain in Japan, Family Mart. One of the popular foods at the convenient store is their fried chicken, which is called Fami-Chiki and is the shortened term for Family Mart Chicken. He is half fried chicken and half-human.
If you want to see a few more mascots and continue to explore the world of yurukyaras, check out this video of 141 yurukyaras attempting to beat a Guinness World Record by dancing together for 5 minutes. Apparently, they can beat the world record if more than 100 can dance with the same movement with less than 5% messing up. Since their hands and legs have to be doing the same movements at the same time, it took a few tries before they succeeded.
Also, check out this interview with Yufu Terashima to learn more about yurukyaras and what she finds fascinating about them!
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