Interview with Mondo Mascots: Japan's Weird & Wonderful Mascots

If you've ever visited Japan then you'll have probably seen a mascot (or ten) lurching around the local shopping mall or theme park. These larger than life colourful critters are known as yuru-kyara and they're big business in Japan. 

We caught up with Chris from Mondo Mascots, a blogger who's been following the weird and wonderful adventures of Japan's quirkiest mascots for many years, to get the lowdown on all things mascot.

Tell us a bit about how you came to be living in Tokyo and where your interest in mascots stemmed from?

I came to Japan to travel about 16 years ago on a whim, and loved it, so I stuck around. There are cute characters on posters and signs everywhere and, since I couldn't read any of the actual text at the time, I took an interest all the characters right away. I have an illustration degree so there was some professional curiosity. After a while I started photographing the costumed yuru-chara mascots whenever I'd spot one. I only started actively seeking them out a couple of years ago.

For those that aren't familiar with Japanese mascots can you describe what they are and why you think they're so popular in Japan?

Well, Japan has mascots like Tony the Tiger or the Michelin Man, but they have a lot more more them, and they often have unique and surprising designs. They're called yuru-chara, which means "loose character", meaning they're laid-back and simple. There are mascots for unexpected things, too, like sewers, prisons, and taxes.

Tough question but if you had to choose, what are your top 5 favourites and why?

That's difficult because there are hundreds to choose from! Currently, my favourite is Chiitan, an otter with a tortoise for a hat, who posts lots of funny videos on Twitter involving her performing daredevil stunts that go hilariously wrong.

I'm also a fan of the Chiba Lotte Marine's mascot, Naze no Sakana ("Mysterious Fish"), a baseball mascot that vomits out its own skeleton, which runs around independently. Funassyi is a fun, anarchic character who's been around for a few years. It's a genderless pear fairy who sings in sold-out arenas with its all-mascot heavy metal band, Charamel. I'm a big fan of Kikuchi-kun, who's a garish Frankenstein's monster of nine different points of pride from Kikuchi City, in Kumamoto. He has a grouchy personality and terrifies kids. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my local mascot, Sanchawan, a puppy with a tea bowl for a head and tea leaves for ears.

Do you travel to other areas of Japan to seek out mascots? Tell us a bit about that.

Well, I travel a lot in Japan, and whenever I do, I keep an eye out for the mascots. I go to a lot of festivals, and there always seem to be a couple of mascots at those. I do travel an hour or two for mascot events, and that has exposed me to a lot of nice towns I wouldn't have otherwise gone to. Those events usually involve lots of mascots plodding around in a park, posing for pictures, and doing party-pieces on stage.

Which would you consider to be the weirdest mascots you've come across? 

Probably the strangest mascot I've encountered is Kan-chan, a mascot for a Ichijiku, a company that makes enemas and fig-based laxatives. Kan-chan is a giant cross between a fig and an enema, with the face and feet of a penguin.

Mondo Mascots www.lovejapanmagazine.com Japan

What's the future for Mondo Mascots?

I'm slowly putting a book together, so look out for that in the not-too-distant future. I've also been submitting my own designs to be the mascots for various small towns, so it'd be interesting if I had any success with that.

You can follow Chris and his mascot hunting adventures on his blog at http://mondomascots.com and he also tweets @mondomascots.  Have you got a favourite mascot? Let us know in the comments below!