OSAKA--While regional mascots have worked wonders around Japan, Osaka Prefecture has decided to lay off a fair share of its own characters for poor job performance.
Known as “yuru kyara,” a combination of “yurui,” meaning lax, and character, they are created by municipalities, other public bodies and citizens to promote local attractions. These whimsical mascots are often designed with misshapen bodies and cute features that appeal to the public.
But so far, none of the 45 mascots introduced by 21 departments of the Osaka prefectural government has had any success, according to officials, including Parky-kun, Osaka Prefectural Park Association’s yellow bird-like character born in 1991.
In contrast, there is Kumamon, a bear-like character of Kumamoto Prefecture, whose popularity has risen as high as to perform for Japan’s emperor and empress. Funassyi, a private-sector mascot featuring a pear, for which Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture is noted, has also proved fruitful.
“The prefecture has too many mascots,” Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui told a news conference in April with a bitter smile on his face. “People do not know what they are promoting or what policy they are trying to raise awareness of.”
In fact, 13 of the 45 mascots did not appear on any event or give out any character-featured items in the last fiscal year.
To increase name recognition, the prefecture is now considering letting some of its mascots go.
The move is intended to expose fewer characters to the public more frequently. The prefectural government also plans to name a core mascot that would symbolize the prefecture.
“I would like you to integrate similar substitutable mascots into one character,” Keiko Oe, the director of Osaka Prefecture’s cultural department in charge of mascot promotion management, told senior prefectural officials at an executive meeting in late March.
She also recommended Moppie, a mascot created for the 1997 National Athletic Meet held in Osaka, as the prefecture’s core character. The brown mascot is a bullheaded shrike, the prefecture’s symbol bird.
Matsui, who also attended the meeting, agreed to her proposal.
“When respective departments introduce new mascots, we need to strategically design them as family members of Moppie,” Matsui said.
According to a survey by the Osaka prefectural government in February, which covered all prefectures except for Osaka, 29 of 42 prefectures that gave valid responses said they have core mascots.
Examples of those core mascots are Kumamoto Prefecture’s Kumamon, Hyogo Prefecture’s round-faced Habatan and Nara Prefecture’s Sento-kun, a bald-headed child with deer horns.
A senior Osaka prefecture official said the local government’s mascots failed in attracting public attention because its citizens see different characters in every event and bulletin.
“If we had named Moppie as our core mascot earlier, we would not have introduced so many characters,” said the official. “We will bring Moppie to the forefront to allow it to catch up with Kumamon and Funassyi.”
Still, there appears to be a long way for the prefecture’s hopeful yuru kyara to capture the spotlight.
Of all 1,580 promotional mascots from all over Japan, Moppie ranked 1,072nd in its popularity in the 2013 nationwide yuru kyara competition.
Some Osaka prefectural officials are also cautious about forcing out unpopular mascots without due consideration.
“Respective departments devoted their energy to creating their mascots, and each mascot has been loved by department officials,” said Yasuyuki Ogawa, vice governor of the prefecture. “I hope such situations will be taken into consideration.”
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