As Japan’s population continues to decline, we see more and more non-human characters pop out and come to life on a daily basis. The yuru-kyara boom which started less than a decade ago is now gaining momentum and dominating our everyday lives.
Yuru-kyara refers to a character or a mascot representative of a city or a prefecture, whose primary mission is to promote and vitalize its local culture and community. The name yuru-kyara is an abbreviation of two words: yurui which means “loose”, and kyara – character.
They are not meant to be lovable in the obvious way that facilitates money-making like other commercial figures (Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Snoopy etc) or anime characters — at least not when they were first introduced to the scene. This notion obviously is starting to change as we see more and more people see monetary value in the popularity of their promotional mascot characters, which is completely understandable.
For example, the very popular Kumamon mascot, Kumamoto’s yuru-kyara, is estimated to have generated around 640 million yen for the prefecture, and the sales of Kumamon merchandise totaled over 2,500 million yen in 2011.
While many of these characters are now becoming more like commercial figures, here I would like to introduce a lesser-known newbie, a native of Funabashi City, Chiba, and one which is not even approved or supported by the local government. This unofficial mascot called Funassyi is a “pear” fairy (the word for pear in Japanese is nashi) and looks like, well, a yellow pear with a face.
Despite its unofficial status and supposedly low publicity, Funassyi ranked 506th in the 2012 yuru-kyara “grand prix” popularity contest, out of 865 entries, which I guess isn’t too shabby. Now Funassyi is everywhere.
Incidentally, the winner of the 2012 Grand Prix was Barii-san, the simple but huggable character for Imabari in Ehime, and who jumped up from being second place last time. That’s him below.
Perhaps what makes Funassyi quite different from many others is that he is a talking mascot (and he talks a LOT) and appears to be a bit wacky as well. In this clip, his talk starts around 1:00 in (after a spot of dancing). Notice the enthusiastic waves and responses he gets from the crowd.
So why hasn’t Funabashi City adopted him? The answer is rather obvious – because they don’t want to. Instead, they recently announced their own “official” city mascot named Funaemon, who has no resemblance whatsoever to Funassyi.
This is Funaemon below, a more conservative and “human” yuru-kyara than the pear that is Funassyi. But which is the better mascot?
Will this move be enough to kick the unofficial yet one-and-only Funassyi out of the game? It seems like the odds are against the bureaucrats!
The Japan National Tourist Organization reported late last month that estimated numbers of visitors to Japan for November 2012 were 648,600, a 17.6% increase from the same month in 2011 and even up 2.2% on the same month in pre-Fukushima 2010.
A bullish JNTO says this reinforces a trend since June of figures returning to what they were — or even better than they were — before the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku.
Not surprisingly, immediately after the disaster on March 11th, visitors to Japan plunged down over 60% in the wake of the Fukushima panic, and concern over food supplies and transportation.
However, since the start of 2012 the numbers started to crawl back slowly but surely.
Numbers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and India are all at record numbers, helped by the increase in low-cost carriers reducing the price of a fare to Tokyo.
But this isn’t the whole story. The numbers have gone back up but they are still down 6.9% on 2010 levels for Koreans.
The Takeshima dispute and the strength of the yen have also meant that Korean visitors are still staying away.
Likewise, Chinese tourists are woefully down, a decrease of 43.6% from November 2011 and even lower than May, right after the Tohoku catastrophe. I’m sure the people who depend on tourist yen for their income are really grateful to Shintaro Ishihara right now.
Following its rather naff “Cool Japan” campaign of recent years where it tried to harness the overseas popularity of manga and anime and, er, Arashi (yes, quite) to attract international otaku (just what Japan needs more of), the latest brainwave is to promote Tokyo as a fashion capital and bring in “consumer tourists”.
With the undeniably “catchy” slogan of “VISIT JAPAN! VISIT ZOZOTOWN!”, the tourism ministry has teamed up with global online store ZozoTown.com to appeal to girls in their twenties and thirties living in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Browsers will be able to use the special “Japan Hot Brand File” pages inside the ZozoTown portal as a guide to three Japanese brands online and the Tokyo areas (Tokyo Sky Tree surroundings, Shibuya and Omotesando/Harajuku) in which the brand’s bricks-and-mortar stores are based, and all in three languages (Japanese, English and Chinese).
There will also be real world events, such as a pop-up “Visit Japan” promo at shops and cafes in Taipei at the end of this month.
There is only one real question. Will it work? Will this kind of campaign actually encourage young Asian females to visit Tokyo and go shopping (and presumably do some sightseeing as well)?
We think it’s a nice idea but doesn’t go far enough, and the choice of the Sky Tree as one of the “hot” fashion areas is rather forced. Also, why not focus on up-and-coming designers rather than established names? These brands and their stores don’t need a free plug. But there are loads of talented young fashion designers whose creative powers could be harnessed to show the world that there is more to Tokyo than just Asakusa and Shibuya Scramble Crossing.
Still, it could be worse. They could have mentioned bagel heads.