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Yuru Kyara: The Adorable and Absurd Ambassadors of Japanese Regional Tourism

In recent years, Japanese Mascot Culture has become pervasive to the point of becoming known worldwide – from internet blogs, to variety shows, to even news articles. Chances are that even your older family members will have some passing knowledge of characters representing franchises, such as Hello Kitty, Doraemon, and Pikachu. However, younger, more online generations will likely recognize some of Japan’s regional, and considerably quirkier yuru-kyara (lax mascots) as well.


Having yuru-kyara to represent even the lesser-known places, products, businesses, and events, there are no shortage of unique creatures, ranging from adorable to spooky, while commonly striking some balance between the two. With yuru-kyara becoming increasingly popular overseas, there are a good handful that readers may recognize. Which ones do you know?

Browse the list below to see a small sample of what sort of regional mascots are out there, and where they can be found...



Kumamon, Kumamoto Prefecture



Kumamon was born in 2010 to promote tourism in Kumamoto Prefecture (South Japan) after the completion of the Kyushu Shinkansen Line. With his peculiar dreamlike aura and mischievous behavior, he has a mysterious charm that makes everybody smile. He was received with immediate popularity and became the champion of the National Yuru-kyara Grand Prix in 2011. He was appointed Sales Manager and Happiness Manager for Kumamoto Prefecture by the Governor and he is promoting Kumamoto in Japan and around the world every day.



Hikonyan – Hikone, Shiga Prefecture



Hikonyan is a character hailing from Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, created to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Hikone Castle in 2007. The character design is based off the white cat which is said to have saved the third Lord of Hikone, Ii Naotaka, from a thunderstorm. The character’s red samurai helmet, is that of Ii’s military corps - some of which are now on display at the castle museum!



Lerch-san – Niigata Prefecture



Standing out among his animal peers is Niigata Prefecture’s ski ambassador, Lerch-san. This Nigel Thornberry-meets-Wes Anderson-looking humanoid character was in fact based off of Major Theodor Edler von Lerch, the Austro-Hungarian Army officer who introduced skiing to Japan in 1911. Since then, skiing has become popular in many areas across Japan, especially in Niigata!



Hotto-san – Usuki, Oita Prefecture


Hotto-san’s face of debatable motivation was inspired by the national treasure, the Usuki Stone Buddhas, located in his hometown of Usuki, Oita Prefecture. Hotto-san's name comes from both the Japanese word for the Buddha(hotoke)and the verb “to be relieved” (hotto-suru). His webpage lists his special skills as "sitting and bowing”, although as you may guess from his staggering appearance, he is not good at sports.


Unari-kun – Narita, Chiba Prefecture


Upon arriving in Japan, possibly the first yurukyara you encounter will be the mascot of the airport town of Narita, Unari-kun. Despite his birdlike appearance, his name is actually a reference to Narita’s local specialty, eel (unagi), and of course, to the many airplanes that soar above Narita! It is said that Unari-kun he originally flew to earth from Planet Unari in outer space. While in search of a place to land, he discovered the lovely airport of Narita city. Many tourists are prone to heading straight to Tokyo from the airport, but Unari-kun would implore you to stay a while and enjoy the city’s culture! This includes his favourite Narita specialties such as yokan (sweet red bean jelly), and teppozuke pickles.


Terebi-tousan (Father Television) – Hokkaido Prefecture


People tend to speak as it being raised by TV is a bad thing, but staring at the warm smile of Father Television may make you reconsider. Father Television is an unofficial character, designed to represent the iconic Sapporo TV Tower. The tower overlooks Odori Park, the mountains surrounding Sapporo City, and even the Sea of Japan, if the weather is favorable! In the original Japanese, Father Television’s name is a pun – “Terebitou-san”, which also means “Mr. Television Tower”.




With over 1500 officially recognized yuru-kyara, this is just a small sample of the characters in store for you when you visit Japan. Whether cute, quirky, or creepy, you are guaranteed to find a character that speaks to you in some way - sometimes, these characters may even lead you to find a hidden gem that you wouldn’t have otherwise! Whether is prefecture, a place, or an event, why not find a favourite character and see what they have to share?




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