Chiitan mascot, bar
Photo: twitter.com/chiitan7407

Get to know Japan’s strange yet adorable mascots

From Kumamon to Chiitan, these cute and quirky Japanese mascots promote tourism, businesses and even a baseball team

By Kasey Furutani
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Japan knows how to do cute, from character cafes to Totoro-shaped cream puffs, so it’s no surprise that prefectures, governments and even companies want something adorable and cartoonish to represent them.  

Known in Japanese as yuru-chara, Japan's mascots are dopey and hilarious creatures that are all-round charming. In Japan, mascots promote tourism, brands and even just good behaviour, like Quaran the quarantine fairy and Shinjuku’s hand-washing soap bubble superhero. Here are some of our favourite mascots, from famous black bear Kumamon to a busty anthropomorphic sea lion – all of which straddle the line between cute and strange. 

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Chiba Lotte mascots
Chiba Lotte mascots
Photo: twitter.com/Chiba_Lotte

Chiba Lotte Marines mascot 

We have no words for the mascot of the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team. This mystery mascot comes in two parts – a colourful outer costume shaped like an angler fish, and an inner skeleton with its own fish head that seems to be able to exit its blue exterior anytime it wants. Is the skeleton meant to be the angler fish’s half-eaten prey? Have a look above and decide for yourself. 
kumamon mascot
kumamon mascot
Photo: twitter.com/katurahama_aq

Otodo-chan

This busty pink sea lion is the mascot for the Katsurahama Aquarium, located in Kochi in the southern part of Japan. Otodo-chan is at once hilarious and unsettling, her human-like body and cartoon-sized chest make for a stark contrast with her sea lion head. Find Otodo-chan on Twitter, where she seems to be pretty excitable – she documents visits to the aquarium and the local area and uses double exclamation marks as liberally as parents do on Facebook. 
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Nishikokun mascots
Nishikokun mascots
Photo: fb.com/nishikokun

Nishiko-kun

Nishiko-kun takes the two-legged form of a roof tile from a temple in Nishi-Kokubunji. Unlike most mascots, who tend to just stand around and look cute, Nishiko-kun has some serious dancing skills – it jetés and jigs throughout Nishi-Kokubunji with a sense of childlike curiosity. Nishiko-kun is quite hip: it has been a muse for pop art, appeared in advertisements and even has its own official merchandise. Find Nishiko-kun in the suburbs of western Tokyo, where it enjoys interrupting cherry blossom parties with its sick dance moves.

高円寺フェス
高円寺フェス

Namisuke

Namisuke, the mascot of Suginami ward in western Tokyo, is a dinosaur-centipede with a human baby face. He's pretty adorable – he wobbles around on his stubby little arms and legs and his extra-large pupils give off a kawaii vibe. However, his cute exterior hides potentially violent personality: Namisuke appears at his local festival, Koenji Fes, in autumn and is known for showing off his wrestling skills.

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Chiitan mascots
Chiitan mascots
Photo: twitter.com/chiitan7407

Chiitan

Chiitan is the naughty, self-proclaimed yet unofficial mascot of Susaki in Kochi prefecture. The blushing Asian small-clawed otter with a turtle as a hat has a misleadingly innocent appearance – Chiitan really is a rebel wreaking havoc on its small town. Chiitan’s stunt videos, which include losing its turtle hat and falling into a river, or tumbling over while skiing, went viral around the world and the otter was even featured on US TV show ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’, where Oliver created his own mascot inspired by Chiitan. 
Shimotsukareoji mascots
Shimotsukareoji mascots
Photo: twitter.com/shimotsukareoji

Prince Shimotsukare

This eyebrowless apron-wearing baby creature is the mascot and prince of Shimotsuke, a city in Tochigi prefecture. Prince Shimotsukare’s namesake is the local cuisine shimotsukare, a traditional dish made from salmon, vegetables, soybeans and abura-age (deep-fried tofu). The baby prince has all the criteria to be adorable despite his lumpy appearance. When he’s not representing local cuisine, Prince Shimotsukare has a side gig as a YouTube yoga instructor

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kumamon mascot
kumamon mascot
Photo: twitter.com/55_kumamon

Kumamon

Well-known and well-loved, Kumamon is the official mascot of Kumamoto prefecture. Kumamon first made it big while promoting relief efforts for the 2016 Kumamoto City earthquake and has since become a nationally recognised figure. Kumamon’s appearance – that of a black bear with a perpetual open-mouthed smile, rosy cheeks and unsettlingly small pupils – has attracted a legion of fans: merch featuring the bear-like mascot can be found throughout Tokyo and Japan, and Kumamon’s official Twitter account has over 800,000 followers. You can even make your own Kumamon kit with these free masks and origami patterns on Kumamon’s official website.
Owanson mascots
Owanson mascots
Photo: fb.com/team.owansan

Owansan

Hailing from the hot spring town of Yamanaka Onsen in Ishikawa prefecture, Owansan is a hybrid bowl-dog with ladybug-coloured ears. As a part of the tourist information office, Owansan helps visitors explore the town and its motif is found on maps, cookies and even souvenirs. Owansan is pretty adorable but its combination of animal and kitchenware, alongside the contrasting ears, makes it too much of a Frankenstein mascot.

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G-nenja mascots
G-nenja mascots
Photo: fb.com/tororo461

G-nenjer

Shiroi, a small city in Chiba prefecture, is a quiet town known for its lush nature and freshly farmed vegetables. One of those veggies is G-nenjer, a potato ninja that looks like it sprouted fresh from the depths of vegetable hell. Disturbingly similar to a zombie crossed with a potato, G-nenjer is a long root vegetable with a screaming mouth and cartoon-like eyes that change depending on its mood. After seeing this horror clip of G-nenjer, you’ll never eat potatoes the same way again.

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Photo: IMDb – Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

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