(AFP) – Representing everything from prisons to safe sex, Japan has literally thousands of mascots, ranging from the uber-cute to the frankly disturbing.
As Tokyo 2020 organisers unveil the mascot for the games on Wednesday, here are five of the most weird and wonderful mascots from the country that brought you Hello Kitty and Pokemon.
– Funassyi: the ‘pear fairy’ –
Funassyi is a bright-yellow hyperactive lifesize mascot in the shape of a pear, who has a love of heavy metal and is renowned throughout Japan for death-defying TV stunts and good-natured bad behaviour.
The self-appointed representative for Funabashi City, 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Tokyo, Funassyi shot to fame after coming to blows with arch-rival mascot Kumamon on live TV.
The Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne-worshipping mascot has delighted fans with stunts: once risking life and limb running shrieking through a field as explosions cascaded behind it.
The chubby prankster has given press conferences and made international appearances as far afield as New York, entertaining supporters with high-pitched squealing, jumping and violent gyrating.
– Katakkuri-chan: jailbird mascot –
You might think prison is no place for a cuddly mascot, but not so in Japan, where Asahikawa prison on the northern island of Hokkaido adopted Katakkuri-chan in an attempt to soften its dark and foreboding image.
The humanoid mascot stands nearly two metres tall (6ft 6ins), has a huge smiling face and sports an enormous purple flower for hair. It has a female and male incarnation and proudly wears a prison warden’s uniform.
The mascot’s name and hair is inspired by the dogtooth violet — katakuri — which blooms on a mountain near the prison as soon as the winter snows melt.
– ‘Jimmy Hattori: ninja condom’ –
Mascots are even used to promote safe sex in Japan, with one of the most famous being Jimmy Hattori, a ninja with a large pink condom on his head.
Another mascot that has raised eyebrows is Com-chan, a fluffy character also based on a condom that is used by the AIDS information centre in Yokohama, near Tokyo.
– ‘Ororon Robo Mebius’ –
Budgetary pressures have forced some local communities to cut back on the number of mascots representing the community but the remote town of Rumoi in Hokkaido decided it simply couldn’t face it, so created a terrifying hybrid from eight different mascots.
“Ororon Robo Mebius”, which resembles a gigantic humanoid “Transformers”-style robot, has legs, arms, a face and a body that all came from different mascots representing various communities.
– ‘Fukuppy’ –
Not all mascots are cute and cuddly. Meron-kuma (“Melon-bear”) from Yubari in Hokkaido comes in the shape of a terrifying bear with a melon for a head, a nasty snarl and razor-sharp teeth.
Despite this, children love snapping photos with their heads between the bear’s toothy grin.
One mascot that fell foul of online ridicule was that of Japanese refrigerator maker Fukushima Industries, with the unfortunate name of “Fukuppy.”
The firm tried to blend the first part of its name — Fuku — and the end of the English word happy but the result was that the internet exploded in gags.
It was particularly unfortunate as it recalled the catalogue of mishaps at the Fukushima nuclear plant — despite the firm having nothing to do with the area hit by nuclear catastrophe.