The country is cracking down on these cute and cuddly characters.
The brief and colorful reign of the Japanese mascot may be coming to an end. These cuddly, life-size characters, known as yuru-kyara, are ubiquitous in Japan, and have been used to promote everything from smartphone apps and soy sauce to nuclear energy and public transportation. Some—like Kumamon, the huggable bear of Kumamoto prefecture—have risen to superstardom. Most, however, are D-list shills for local governments, and it's these "regional characters" that are now getting the axe.
Last year the Japanese government announced a nationwide crackdown on yuru-kyara, citing waste of public funds. One mascot reportedly cost its owners 1 million yen a year (that's about $8,300), despite only making five public appearances.
Officials argue the tremendous proliferation of yuru-kyara has diminished their appeal. The race to anoint the next Kumamon yielded a vast underclass of also-rans even locals didn't recognize. Last year, almost 1,700 mascots competed in the nation's annual Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix, and 1,168 of these were regional characters. In Rumoi, a city of 35,000, there is roughly one mascot for every 6,500 people. Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui put it simply: "The prefecture has too many mascots. People do not know what they are promoting or what policy they are trying to raise awareness of.”
According to the Japan Times, Osaka has already reduced its yuru-kyara roster from 92 to 69, with "no plan to create any new ones." Instead, the prefectural government has trotted out Mozuyan, an old mascot modeled on the shrike, as a replacement. In Rumoi, local officials have created a Franken-mascot from the head, limbs, and torso of eight existing yuru-kyara.
The new policies are sure to disappoint yuru-kyara fans the world over, not to mention graduates of Japan's (and possibly the world's) only mascot school. But as long as Pikachu continues to rep Japan at international sporting events, we're square.
[h/t Japan Times]