Japan’s mascot obsession is known by those even marginally familiar with the country’s culture. Characters like Hello Kitty and her signature silhouette are recognized in countries across the globe, and thanks to the wonders of the internet we’re able to learn more about other cultures than ever before. But something I find that many people don’t realize about Japan is the sheer breadth of things that get their own mascots. Take, for instance, Japanese prefectures.
In the U.S., all states have their own flag and flower. Some have state foods and animals. One thing in which we are sadly lacking, however, is a cute little cartoon representation of our little section of the country. Japan has us soundly beat in that regard. Most prefectures in Japan have at least one, if not several official and unofficial mascots. There’s even a popularity contest for a specific type of prefectural mascot called the “Yura-Kyara” (from a shortening of “Yurui Mascot Character”). In the “Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix”, people can vote on their favorite character from the prefecture of their choice.
There are basically no limits to what can become a mascot character. Some mascot images are adorable, such as Gunma Prefecture’s horse mascot, “Gunma-chan.” Others are downright strange, like Iwate’s bowl of soba noodles named “Kokucchi”. Some are more humanoid like the Tochigi’s mascot, the “Nikko Kamen” super hero.
And then there’s Hokkaido.
Hokkaido, the northern-most of Japan’s four main islands and a prefecture of its own, is known for its frigid winters and beautiful snow festivals. And it’s very awkward mascot.
It is called Marimokkori. The name comes from a species of algae native to Hokkaido called a “marimo.” Marimo are round, green puffball plants that are often kept as novelty, low-maintenance pets throughout Japan. “Mokkori” is a Japanese onomatopoeia meaning “bulge” and used in the common vernacular as a euphemism for an erection. The character design is rather straightforward: a marimo for a head and, you guessed it, a lump in the character’s pants. That’s right – this is a registered mascot character stifling a stiffy.
Needless to say, this algae character with his impressive junk is quite popular with the younger generation. Many English-teaching friends of mine have told me stories of their students’ fascination with this debatably indecent character. Though the character hasn’t been added to the list of Yuru-Kyara contestants for the chilly prefecture, it’s popularity has spawned a vast array of merchandise. There are keychains, pens, coffee cups, lighters, and even caramel candy. His infamy isn’t limited to Japan, but also includes foreign residents. Many travelers find the fact that someone can market a trinket sporting a boner quite titillating, and buy Marimokkori presents for friends and family back in their home country.
Whether you like the cute or the naughty, Japan’s got a mascot for every one… and quite literally, everything.
Sources: tanukiya.co.jp, yurugp.jp
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