Top Ten Japanese Character Mascots 2013

The time has come to announce Finding Fukuoka’s top ten yuru-kyara (character mascots for PR purposes) for 2013. The intense proliferation of these characters in every aspect of Japanese life has presented a plethora of amazing candidates for this list, and it has also made it much more difficult to choose just ten.

In Japan, yuru-kyara are designed for just about anything you can think of — cities, prefectures, companies, brands, websites, projects, events, sports teams, products and more. This list is a ranking of my personal favorites, chosen from the thousands that exist throughout the country. I also list some special category award winners at the end.

I have decided to exclude previous two-time winners such as Kumamon, Barii-san and others. I have also left Sento-kun off of the list this time around despite the fact that he is still the most creepy character in Japan. When footage was available, I have opted to use videos instead of photographs to give readers a better feel for how the characters move, sound, and look from different angles.

For those who are interested, the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix event, during which people throughout Japan choose their favorite character for the year, has closed its polls and will announce their winners on November 24, 2013. (The website is in Japanese only.)

Enjoy Finding Fukuoka’s top ten yuru-kyara picks for 2013!


Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

#10: Kabota Fugusuke

With the proliferation of yuru-kyara among nearly every company, local government and organization throughout Japan, it’s nice to see one with a truly handmade feel. This adorable fellow is the mascot for Usuki YEG (Young Entrepreneurs Group) located in Usuki City, Oita Prefecture (right here in Kyushu!). He supposedly lives together with his father, who is a kabosu (green citrus fruit that Usuki is known for), and his mother, who is a fugu (blowfish), which explains his name and appearance.


Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

#9: Ton-tan

Ton means pig and tan is a very casual and somewhat cutesy version of the honorific -san used when addressing people by name in Japanese. Ton-tan is easily one of the most adorable characters out there — his fuzzy outer layer makes you just want to pet him. According to his description, Ton-tan is very curious and enjoys searching for new things. Ton-tan is the character for the Ton × Tan information sharing website based out of Hokkaido.


#8: Muki-Panda

How great is Muki-Panda? He’s a panda character wearing the costume of a panda character, with a scarf (cape?) draped around it that makes him look superhero-eque in a way. Furthermore, he manages to stand out amid a flood of panda-type characters around the country. Muki-Panda is the self-appointed ambassador of tourism for Daisen-cho, a town in Tottori Prefecture (the source of some of Japan’s best yuru-kyara).


#7: Lerch-san

This Niigata-based character is modeled after a real-life Austr0-Hungarian figure from the past, Theodor Edler von Lerch, who was said to be 270 cm (8.9 ft.) tall! People often said that once you got a look at old Lerch you never forgot him, and the same goes for Lerch-san! And the best part about Lerch-san? He actually skis (and snowboards), costume and all! Check out the video above of Lerch-san hitting the slopes.


#6: O-chan and Ucchii

This pair of roly-poly characters was established to mark the 650th anniversary of the establishment of feudal government in Yamaguchi under the Ouchi clan. O-chan is a feudal lord and Ucchii is a princess, and both are designed to look like traditional dolls. The art of creating cute mascots has reached a level of near-perfection in Japan, and these two are some of the best yet. Admittedly, it’s tempting to give them a gentle push to see how far they will roll.


Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

#5: Tatamin-kun

This character is simply made of several tatami mats stuck together and, not surprisingly, he is the mascot for a Tatami shop in Kyoto Prefecture. The goal in creating this character was to spread the appeal of tatami mat flooring, the act of spending time in a traditional tea room with one’s family, and the general goodness of Japanese culture. Just like mascot #10 on this list, Tatamin-kun has sort of a thrown-together, made-at-home feel that is balanced out with cuteness and uniqueness, making him a top contender in this list. According to his description, Tatamin-kun is a “fairy” of the tatami mats.


#4: Chitchai Ossan

Chitchai Ossan’s official website gives him a fitting and adorable English name: Small Middle-aged Man. And that’s precisely what he is. Not only does his facial expression never fail to make onlookers burst into laughter, he exudes all the stereotypical qualities of an ossan (old men) in Japan, right down to the the silly (drunken?) grin, ring of hair and track pants. This Hyogo Prefecture character has a universal appeal that is quickly making him one of Japan’s most popular.


#3: Kiiboh

There should be no reason to explain why Kiiboh ranks as one of the best characters in 2013. Just look at her! As I mentioned above, the art of cuteness in the field of yuru-kyara has reached an unprecedented high in recent years, and Kiiboh is easily one of the cutest around. Plus that look on her face would melt anyone’s heart. Kiiboh is the mascot for the Anjo Tanabata Festival in Aichi Prefecture: this star festival celebrates the legend of two lovers who are separated by the Milky Way and only allowed to meet once per year.


#2: Mojaroh

This is a hard mascot to describe. It looks like a pudding monster and some green glass melted and then fused to a carpet, which was then draped over a regular person who decided to just keep walking around like that. Representing the Isesaki Monja Festival in Gunma Prefecture, Mojaroh is actually meant to look like Isesaki monja, a type monjayaki which, in case you are not familiar, basically looks like okonomiyaki that somebody barfed up. At any rate, that’s the story behind Mojaroh, one of the most hilarious characters in Japan today.


#1: Funasshii

Some of you may be familiar with Funasshii, the character that took a trip to London to ensure that not only Japan, but other countries as well, were sufficiently terrified of Funabashi City. Yes, Funasshii is one of the funniest, scariest, most unique, most twisted, and best yuru-kyara out there, and although she tends to appeal to a different audience than the legendary Kumamon, she may just steal his throne one day. Funasshii is a promotional mascot for Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture, and her uncontrollable convulsions, eerie jumping motions and high-pitched, desperately screeching voice tend to scare young children but make her popular among everyone else. During her trip to London (first video above), we see her screaming “I love you” to women in a passing convertible, yelling “fish and chips! Ya-hoo!!” as she eats, skipping down the street passed terrified pedestrians and convulsing uncontrollably on the grass in a park. No other character does it quite like Funasshii.


Special Award Winners

Best Naming: Saipanda

This one gets recognition for its clever name and handmade feel, and also for helping to spread the yuru-kyara craze beyond Japanese borders. Saipanda is a panda from Saipan, hence the name. It was created to draw more tourists to the island.


Most Adventurous: Gen-san

Gen-san is the mascot for Toyooka City, Hyogo Prefecture and also for San’in Kaigan Global Geopark. He is described as a stone mason who likes volcanoes. As shown in the video above, Gen-san was chosen as “most adventurous” because of his paragliding adventure, which honestly seems a bit dangerous for the person inside the costume.


Most Disgruntled: Igosso

Hailing from Kochi Prefecture, Igosso (a word that means “stubborn person” in the local Tosa dialect) is the mascot for a hobby museum in the town of Shimanto-cho in Shikoku. There is no other yuru-kyara in Japan that looks like it hates to be at work more than Igosso, which is why he was chosen as most disgruntled.


Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

Most Threatening: Ashigaru-kun

He is a mascot that carries a gun. Enough said.


Most Terrifying: Funaken

This thing looks like the spawn of Satan. Like something straight out of a Resident Evil game. Like a creature that logically should not exist, even in the world of fiction. This unfortunate half-canine is the mascot for a boat racing stadium in Nagoya, which is probably why he has been genetically engineered to be half fish. I’m not sure what the goal of creating such an awful character was, but it’s sure to result in more than a few bad dreams.


Creepiest: Okazaemon

Despite all the cute and goofy characters out there, creepy ones like this seem to pop up on ocassion. Okazaemon was created as an art PR mascot for Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture. I’m hoping that the art in Okazaki looks a little better than this, because all I see when I look at Okazaemon is a suspicious, middle-aged man in creepy felt pajamas. His face is designed to look like the oka (岡) in Okazaki, and zaki (崎) is written on his chest. Check out the video of Okazaemon above to see just how eerie he looks when he…well, does just about anything.


Most Rapey: Muzumuzu

Okazaemon is creepy, but Muzumuzu is somehow worse. He represents Imizu City, Toyama Prefecture, and he is supposedly the king of the water spirits (hmm). The word muzumuzu usually indicates a creepy feeling, an itch to do something, or something irritating. That unfortunate and terrifying smile never leaves his face…the king gets what he wants.


Click for Image if You Dare

Most Shocking: Mister Balls

Mister Balls is exactly what he sounds like: a pair of balls. He was created to promote testicular cancer awareness and help promote relevant research, and his name over in Brazil is Senhor Testiculo (best name ever). He is apparently popular among women and children. The designers obviously paid attention to the small details, including his thick head of curly hair (eww). In all seriousness, this is an excellent example of how to use a character’s shock value to do good in the world — what better way to raise awareness? Click here to read more about Mister Balls.

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Tensuian Miki: A Solid Izakaya with Excellent Sake

Tensuian

Tensuian Miki (呑酔庵 味季) specializes in mizutaki and other cuisine using fresh, local chicken (including chicken sashimi). The nihonshu (Japanese sake) menu boasts a regularly updated, diverse, fascinating selection of reasonably priced drinks that even connoisseurs can enjoy, and their selection of shochu and other beverages is also quite good. Furthermore, Tensuian offers a plethora of side dishes to savor together with your drinks, such as fresh avocado slices, savory chicken karaage and fresh fish sashimi.

Tensuian Miki has two shops: one near Hakata Station and a newer shop (opened in 2013) in Takasago near Yakuin Station.

Open: The Hakata Shop is open from 5:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. (last order at 1:00 a.m.) and the Takasago Shop from 5:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. (last order at 2:00 a.m.). Both are closed for irregular business holidays.
Access:  The Hakata Shop is 4-5 min. on foot from the Hakata exit of Hakata Station (Kuko Subway Line, JR lines). The Takasago Shop is 2-3 min. on foot from the south exit / exit 2 of Yakuin Station (Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line, Nanakuma Subway Line) or 5-6 min. on foot from exit 1 of Watanabe-dori Station (Nanakuma Subway Line).
Phone: 092-206-3333 (Hakata Shop) 092-406-8894 (Takasago Shop)
Japanese Address: 福岡市博多区博多駅前4-10-17 (Hakata Shop), 福岡市中央区高砂1-23-17 (Takasago Shop)

Hakata Shop:

Takasago Shop:

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Naka River / Hakata Bay Sightseeing Cruises

Sightseeing boat in front of Canal City

Sightseeing boat in front of Canal City

Three companies operate sightseeing boats in Fukuoka City along five courses starting from Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge in Tenjin Central Park, and passengers can enjoy Fukuoka’s cityscape from the water day or night on cruises that travel up and down the Naka River and (in some cases) out into Hakata Bay. The “Tenjin / Bayside Place Course” linking the centrally located park and the Hakata Bayside Place ferry terminal also provides a convenient way to get to or from the city center if you are arriving in or departing from Fukuoka by ferry.

The following are short summaries of each course. Availability and schedules may change due to weather, season, vehicle maintenance, lack of empty seats or other such factors. Fares, travel times and schedules are listed in the table on the next page.

  1. Tenjin / Bayside Place Course: Operated by Bellcruise Fukuoka. Runs between Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge and Bayside Place. This is one of the less interesting courses, but it departs quite often, doesn’t take much time and provides a convenient link between the city center and the ferry terminal. Boats operate both day and night.
  2. Naka River Boat Tour Course: Operated by Bellcruise Fukuoka. This night course heads down the Naka River away from the bay, between the neon-lit banks of the Nakasu and Haruyoshi/Tenjin districts. It is short but offers some of the best night views that can be had of the Fukuoka cityscape and the famous Nakasu-area yatai food stalls, making it an ideal choice for tourists.
  3. Naka River / Hakata Bay Boat Tour Course: Operated by Noko Marine Kanko. A bit longer than the other courses, this night course continues out into Hakata Bay, providing stunning night views of the illuminated city. There are only a few services per day and cancellations due to weather are more common than with other courses, so customers should call in advance (in Japanese) if possible.
  4. Tenjin / Nokonoshima Island Course: Operated by Noko Marine Kanko. This is one of the most rewarding of the five cruises. Boats travel all the way from Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge out to Nokonoshima Island, providing fine views of the city as well as a convenient means of traveling directly from the city center to Nokonoshima Island.
  5. Nakasu Cruise Course: Operated by Nakasu Hakatabune. This is a two-hour dinner cruise rather than a standard sightseeing course. Although it is a bit expensive, it offers the chance to dine on beautifully prepared Japanese-style cuisine with main dishes such as sashimi and nabemono (one-pot dishes) while sipping on a cold drink and looking out over the river. A Western-style boat is available for daytime cruises and a Japanese-style boat is used for nighttime cruises against the backdrop of a neon-lit Naka River. The nighttime cruises are particularly popular during the warm summer months. Fares vary by meal, and reservations are required.

Course

Fare

Length

Departure Schedule

Tenjin / Bayside Place Course

Adult: 500 yen
Child: 250 yen

20 min. (one-way)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 10:35 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 2:10 p.m., 3:20 p.m., 4:55 p.m., 6:15 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 8:15 p.m.
Bayside Place Hakata: 11:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:40 p.m., 3:55 p.m., 5:25 p.m., 6:45 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 8:45 p.m.

Naka River Boat Tour Course

Adult: 500 yen
Child: 250 yen

20 min. (loop)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 6:15 p.m., 6:45 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 8:15 p.m., 8:45 p.m.

Naka River / Hakata Bay Boat Tour Course

Ride: 2,000 yen
Charter: 18,000 per boat

50 min. (loop)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m.

Tenjin / Nokonoshima Island Course

1,300 yen

30 min. (one-way)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m.
Nokonoshima Island: 12:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 16:00 p.m.

Nakasu Cruise Course

6,000–10,000 yen (including meal)

120 min. (loop)

Contact Nakasu Hakatabune (092-734-0228) in Japanese for details
  • Access: The boarding point is at the west end (Tenjin side) of Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge in Tenjin Central Park, located 4–5 min. on foot from exit 14 or 16 of Tenjin Station (Kuko Subway Line), exit 1 of Nakasu-Kawabata Station (Kuko Subway Line, Hakozaki Subway Line), the North Gate of Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station (Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line) or exit 5 of Tenjin-minami Station (Nanakuma Subway Line).
  • Additional Information: Boat operators take irregular business holidays on occasion, and they may also suspend operations during rough weather. Call in advance to confirm the current day’s schedule.
  • Contact Numbers: 092-263-8113 (Bellcruise Fukuoka), 092-651-6555 (Noko Marine Kankou), 092-734-0228 (Nakasu Hakatabune)
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The Four Seasons in Japan

Yusentei Park, an example of the role of nature in Japanese culture

Yusentei Park

If you spend enough time in Japan, you will most likely be told at some point that “Japan has four seasons” as one of the country’s most unique qualities. Although this seems a bit absurd considering that most countries have the same four seasons, the statement really implies that their Japan has four well-defined seasons (five effective seasons if tsuyu, the rainy season, is included), and that Japanese people have a deep-rooted fascination in the changes that each of those seasons brings. People view the stunning spring cherry blossoms, brilliant autumn leaves, tranquil snow-covered winter landscapes and seasonal flowers throughout the year with deep affection because these all have deep-reaching, symbolic meaning based on a uniquely Japanese love of nature — this is a common theme found throughout Japanese art, literature and poetry.

Japanese People also see the seasonal changes as personal, dynamic backdrops for the stories of their lives as well as symbolic representations of human life in general. Cherry blossoms, for example, start out young, bloom into something captivating and elegant in very a short time, and then wither and die not long after that — this is often used as a metaphor for our beautiful but tragically brief existences as human beings.

To see for yourself what changes the different seasons can bring, trying visiting Maizuru Park, Yusentei Park, Uminonakamichi Seaside Park and the flower fields of Nokonoshima Island Park at different times of the year.

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Fujiyoshi: Unique Yakitori Selections

Fujiyoshi

Fujiyoshi (藤よし) is a long-established yakitori shop located in Nishi-Nakasu (home to some of Fukuoka’s best restaurants) that provides nothing but the best in savory chicken skewers. They offer rare parts of the chicken not available at other shops at surprisingly affordable prices. Their lunch sets (available 11:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) provide a sampling of some of their best items at low prices (around 750 yen), and their evening prices are surprisingly affordable.

Their tsukune (Japanese-style meatball) skewers are to die for, and the bara (beef, vegetables and konjac) and kashiwa (white chicken meat) skewers are also very tasty. They even offer peta, which is — guess what? — chicken butt!

Fujiyoshi is 5-6 min. on foot from exit 6 of Tenjin-minami Station (Nanakuma Subway Line), 6-7 min. on foot from exit 1 of Nakasu-Kawabata Station (Kuko Subway Line, Hakozaki Subway Line) and exit 16 of Tenjin Station (Kuko Subway Line), and 10–12 min. on foot from Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station (Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line). They are open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. (closed on Sundays).

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Fukuoka Beach Guide Updated and Upgraded for 2013

Keya Beach

The Fukuoka Beach Guide has been updated for 2013 and upgraded to a permanent section of the site. Select “Beaches” from the menu bar or click here to view the new beach guide!

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Hakata Port Tower and Bayside Place Hakata

Hakata Port Tower

Hakata Port Tower

Before Fukuoka’s shiny Momochi-area landmark Fukuoka Tower was built, the city had another bay-side landmark in the older, more industrial Hakata Port area. The modest-sized Hakata Port Tower, completed in 1964, is now eclipsed by many of the apartment and office buildings that have sprung up in the city’s ensuing growth, yet it still manages to retain its own unique brand of retro-style charm. It stands 100 m (328 ft.) tall and was designed by architect Tachu Naito–the same architect who designed Tokyo Tower, Osaka’s current Tsutenkaku Tower, and Nagoya TV Tower. Furthermore, Hakata Port Tower is the first thing that both domestic and international passengers see when arriving in Fukuoka by boat.

The tower is not overly impressive, but it has a certain retro-style, down-to-earth feel that makes is strangely attractive. It can be quite pleasant at night when illuminated and accompanied only by the sound of waves lapping against the wharf. Although it is hard to imagine this tower being a central landmark in the city, it is important to remember that Fukuoka used to be much smaller than it is now, and the city’s rapid rate of growth simply left Hakata Port Tower in the dust.

Bayside Place Hakata with Hakata Port Tower in the background

Bayside Place Hakata is a small but charming shopping complex located next to the tower and the local ferry terminal (the international ferry terminal is only a short distance away). It boasts a fair assortment of shops (including duty-free shops), and a large aquarium adorns the entrance area. Although Bayside Place isn’t worth going out of the way to see, you can combine it with a visit to the tower or grab a bite to eat and buy souvenirs before departing by ferry. Sightseeing boats also connect this complex to Tenjin Central Park.

The tower is free to enter, and it is open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Hours for Bayside Place vary by shop, but most are open from around 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

To get to both facilities, take bus 46 or 99 from the Hakata Station area (220 yen, 20-30 min.) or bus 49 or 90 from the Tenjin area (180 yen, 10-15 min.) to Hakatafuto bus stop. Ferries and boats also provide connections to Tenjin Central Park, Uminonakamichi Seaside Park and Saitozaki, Shikanoshima Island and other destinations. It is also possible to walk from Gofukumachi Station (Hakozaki Subway Line) to either facility in about 20 minutes.

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