On the evening of July 28, a part-time amusement park worker died from heatstroke at Hirakata Park in Osaka. Kyodo News reported that Yohei Yamaguchi, age 28, collapsed while practicing a dance, wearing a 16-kilogram mascot costume. The ambient outdoor temperature at the time was 28.7 degrees.
Yukan Fuji (Aug 3) noted that this tragedy threatens to create a real predicament for operators of the many theme parks and other forms of entertainment that employ adults dressed as kigurumi (life-size costumes that resemble plush toys, sometimes referred to as kigurumin). Much loved by children of all ages they serve as popular attractions at both official events and commercial activities.
One of Japan's most widely recognized mascots is a bear-like figure named Kumamon, which represents Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu. Out of concern over possibility of a similar incident, the Kumamon Group attached to the office of Kumamoto Prefecture's governor has begun to advise that any on-stage performances be limited to a maximum of 30 minutes at a time, followed by a water break. "This is the same as for any other staff," a spokesperson pointed out.
Shiga Prefecture, which is represented by a cat wearing a samurai helmet named Hikonyan, quickly adopted with a similar strategy, allowing mascots to take quick water breaks any time a performance extends to 30 minutes.
"In the old days, if someone complained their costume was uncomfortable, we just used to tell them to grin and bear it," the operator of a Tokyo-based entertainment company that dispatches mascots for so-called "hero shows" or "character shows" told Yukan Fuji. "But these days staff are served regular reminders to make sure performers take sufficient water and minerals. Some are given chunks of ice to hold under their armpits or against their throats. Also, the air conditioning is always kept running in their dressing rooms, or if not available in the dressing room, they are allowed to cool off in air conditioned vehicles."
Should the temperature climb over 35 degrees, show operators have been instructed to explain the situation to customers, and if necessary truncate the performance. Or, dancing might even be halted and instead the members of the audience are invited to shake hands with the mascot. ("Customers aren't usually very happy in such cases," he added.)
The organizer has also appealed to costume makers to devise countermeasures against heatstroke. One manufacturer, Medicopress Inc, is accepting orders for an inflatable costume named "Air Kigurumi," which accounts for about 70% of its business. Electric fans can be attached to the costumes and the company also offers a special vest that makes use of a chemical coolant to direct cool air to the torso and neck.
Hopefully with common sense and new technology to help mascots chill out, further tragedy can be avoided.© Japan Today