Mondo Mascots: Celebrating Japan’s Bizarre Yuru-Chara

Kumamon the rosy-cheeked Japanese mascot
Kumamon in action.

A big shoutout to Mondo Mascots today, run by Chris Carlier. He’s a British creative living in Japan, where he documents the nation’s yuru-chara (ゆるキャラ).

The yuru-chara belong firmly in Japan’s kawaii (cuteness) culture and often represent many big brands in the nation. Let’s take a look at them!

A Tribute to Japan’s Kawaii Mascots

Mondo means something that’s extremely unconventional or bizarre. We guess like Professional Moron. But we don’t have a mascot.

Well, except the jaundiced individual at the top of the blog. But it’s not allowed out in public, whereas Japanese mascots are openly encouraged to do so.

Yuru-chara (Hepburn romanticisation: yuru-kyara) are characterised by unconventional designs. They can represent a business, event, organisation, or region.

Typically they have a full body costume, or kigurumi—a costumed character.

They’re weird and wonderful, but mainly just cute. Although some are creepy cute, which is classed as kimo-kawaii.

Some are even deeply mysterious. Take the fish Nazo No Sakana, who’s taken many forms over the years.

Nazo No Sakana (Mysterious fish) is the mascot for the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team.

On 6th April 2021, this was the final form it revealed in dramatic fashion.

You get plenty of others, ones we even documented before such as the Nyango Star (cat drummer) who captured the world’s attention with its mental drumming.

There are now so many of these mascots, the nation is overrun with them.

Many Japanese are now struggling to remember which mascot belongs to what (or whom), so the pressure is on to create memorable yuru-chara.

And a fair few of the mascots, due to their cuteness and/or bizarre behaviour, have reached a global audience. Let’s have a gander at some.

Popular Yuru-Chara Mascots

Okay, so we rounded up some of the most famous mascots below. Plus, some of the absolute weirdest we could find. Hurray!

Kumamon

Kumamon smiling

Our favourite we’ve come across so far, he’s a rosy-cheeked bear created by the government of Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan.

Kumamon (くまモン) is one of the nation’s most enduringly popular mascots and has worldwide fame (and rosy cheeks).

Chiitan

Chiitan

An absurdly cute beast, who was created to represent the small port city of Susaki.

Chiitan is a 0-year old and isn’t a cat, it’s a fairy baby otter of no gender. It wears a happy pink turtle for a hat.

The otter became famous due to its social media antics, which included often violently clumsy accidents.

Tsukihashi Wataru

Tsukihashi Wataru

The mascot for the Arashiyama shopping district in Kyoto, this thing is actually Togetsukuo Bridge in mascot form. Although it sort of looks like a ghost.

However, that’s definitely a bamboo-lined path on its back.

The symbols on its chest are the beast’s name, which clearly indicates who and what it is. Which helps, as this one is a bit baffling.

Baron Ciste

Baron Ciste mascot

From Hokkaido Mukawa-Cho, this chap is an ammonite-headed jester of sorts who can perform riddles, opera, and plays cheese.

Baron Ciste also loves fine wines, which is probably why he doesn’t mind having all those things protruding from his face.

Domo-kun

Domo-Kun

Or just “Domo” for short, we’ve seen this guy around a lot and figured he was a video game character of some sort.

Nope, Domo is the mascot for Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.

The little monster also appears in stop-motion animation sketches and has done since 1998.

Jinenja

Jinenja the yam mascot

From the Shiroi Underground Kingdom, Shiroi of Chiba, Jinenja kind of looks like a fancy bit of sushi.

It was created by the Association Supporting Wild Yams. He’s a yam ninja, which is a career path many of us should aspire to.

Jinenja actually has a life mission, too. He’s trying to save Princess Tororo, who’s a grated yam. Nice one, mate!

Funassyi

Funassyi

This entity is a genderless pear. It represents the city of Funabashi in Chiba.

Funassyi was created by a citizen of Funabashi, with the goal of cheering people up. Since then, the pear has launched four albums that resulted in six singles.

It also has an anime series and there’s a live action drama about its life. Nice!

Sanomaru

Sanomaru mascot

Sanomaru (さのまる) won the 2013 Yuru-Chara Grand Prix (more on that further below) and for obvious reasons why.

He wears traditional Japanese clothes, including a hakama skirt and zori flip-flops.

But he also has a bowl of upturned sano-ramen noodles on his cranium. Fear not for his life! For he carries a potato fries sword!

When not busy successfully fending for himself, Sanomaru is the mascot for Sano City.

Lots of Love for Kumamon

So, this guy is definitely our favourite. He just has the right look, you know? Although we have a soft spot for Sanomaru as well.

Kumamon is now a merchandising dream for Japan, bringing in over $1.2 billion in benefits for your country merely two years after its creation.

It’s so successful as a mascot the Bank of Japan ran a study into it, also highlighting it brought some $90 million of publicity to the country.

Kumamon has an official YouTube channel and has enjoyed cameos in videos games such as Yo-Kai Watch 2.

The Yuru-Chara Grand Prix

With so much cuteness in one nation, it’s essential to get a competition together to judge who’s the cutest.

These have run since 2010, with the first event enjoying 169 entrants. By 2017 that skyrocketed to some 1,158!

The last event was in 2019, we presume last year’s do was called off due to the pandemic.

It’s a bit unclear when the next grand prix is going to be, but the Yuru-Chara GP site gives an explanation for the event’s existence:

“It is said that Japan has eight million (yaoyorozu) gods since ancient times.
In other words, there are gods in the mountains, in the sea, in the river, in the forest, in trees, and in flowers respectively.

Yuru-Chara is also in all over the Japan, has activities rooted in the each region.

All of Yuru-Chara do their best as local stars, even if they could not get to the Grand Prix, the first prize.”

Best of luck to all entrants at the next cuteness grand prix. Although we expect Kumamon to dominate all proceedings!

2 comments

  1. All I can think of whenever I hear the word ‘mondo’ is the old Tubes number, ‘Mondo Bondage’ which (like most of their songs) is silly, crass, and yet razor sharp satire. Apparently Rick Wakeman got them their first recording contract.

    Liked by 1 person

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