City mas­cots face cull: Ja­pan Fi­nance Min­istry

The China Post - - GUIDE POST - BY SHINGO ITO

Ja­pan’s swollen ranks of cud­dly mas­cots, once de rigueur for ev­ery lo­cal gov­ern­ment and com­mer­cial brand, are com­ing un­der in­creas­ing threat, with some be­ing culled and oth­ers com­bined.

The move comes af­ter the Fi­nance Min­istry last year or­dered au­thor­i­ties na­tion­wide to cut back on the use of life-size “yuru-kyara” (“laid­back char­ac­ters”), say­ing many of them are a waste of public money.

In the ma­jor me­trop­o­lis of Osaka, of­fi­cials have stamped down on the wild pro­lif­er­a­tion of mas­cots, whose num­ber had swelled to 92, in­clud­ing spe­cial cre­ations for ev­ery­thing from tax pay­ment cam­paigns to child­care sup­port ser­vices.

“We have de­cided to se­lect Mozuyan, our old­est one, fol­low­ing doubts about the public re­la­tions im­pact of hav­ing too many char­ac­ters,” an Osaka of­fi­cial told AFP.

“The num­ber has now fallen to 69 and there is no plan to cre­ate any new ones,” she said, in a move lo­cal me­dia de­scribed as “vir­tual re­struc­tur­ing.”

Their choice of mas­cot is per­haps em­blem­atic of the bru­tal fate await­ing many yuru-kyara: Mozuyan’s head is mod­eled on the shrike, a car­niv­o­rous bird known for im­pal­ing prey on thorns be­fore con­sum­ing it, like a me­dieval monarch dis­play­ing the de­cap­i­tated head of an en­emy.

Mean­while, in the re­mote dis­trict of Ru­moi, on north­ern­most Hokkaido, a patch­work char­ac­ter made up of dif­fer­ent el­e­ments of eight ex­tant mas­cots was be­ing rolled out.

With a pop­u­la­tion of just 53,000, Ru­moi had one mas­cot for ev­ery 6,500 peo­ple.

Na­tional Celebri­ties

Ja­pan has thou­sands of larg­erthan-life pup­pets with cutesy but im­prob­a­ble fea­tures, which are used to pro­mote ev­ery­thing from re­gional at­trac­tions to public safety mes­sages.

Th­ese in­clude Ku­ma­mon, a pot-bel­lied bear who stumps for a lesser-vis­ited part of south­ern Ja­pan, and Asahikawa Pri­son’s Katakkuri-chan, a square-faced hu­manoid with a pur­ple flower for hair, who is in­tended to soften the jail’s public im­age.

The most suc­cess­ful be­come na­tional celebri­ties, spawn­ing a huge range of mer­chan­dise that can be worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars a year.

But the vast ma­jor­ity lan­guish in ob­scu­rity, wheeled out by lo­cal po­lice forces or li­braries at public events where the ac­tor in­side the suit must jig jaun­tily and pose for pic­tures with a stream of slightly baf­fled chil­dren.

The Fi­nance Min­istry said last year that many public bod­ies had put lit­tle thought into the rea­sons be­hind hav­ing a mas­cot, or whether hav­ing one would rep­re­sent value for money.

On- go­ing main­te­nance costs can be high, the min­istry noted, with one mas­cot set­ting back its own­ers a mil­lion yen (US$8,400) a year, de­spite only mak­ing five out­ings.

In a bid to dodge crit­i­cism that they are frit­ter­ing away tax­pay­ers’ cash, the city of Otsu, cen­tral Ja­pan, col­lected one mil­lion yen in dona­tions af­ter an In­ter­net cam­paign to re-cre­ate their “Otsu Hikaru- kun” af­ter the orig­i­nal one wore out.

“We also wanted to draw peo­ple’s at­ten­tion” as it’s rare to use “crowd fund­ing” for pur­chas­ing a char­ac­ter doll, a city of­fi­cial said.

AFP

This file pic­ture taken on June 30, 2012 shows life-size char­ac­ters “yuru-kyara” (“laid-back char­ac­ters”) per­form­ing on a stage at the Yana­gase shop­ping dis­trict in Gifu, Ja­pan.

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