Have you ever heard of Yuru-chara (ゆるキャラ) also pronounced as kyara?
In general, Japanese people like cute animated characters such as Hello Kitty, Anpanman, Doraemon, Astro Boy, and Disney. When we think about cute characters before, they used to be just the cartoon characters I mentioned above.
(Kumamon Reference: http://columbia.jp/)
However recently, the characters with appeal in each local regions are becoming more popular among people. These characters are known as Yuru-Chara. Yuru-Charas usually wear kawaii costumes, and some of their behaviors can be pretty unique, but they are nonetheless cute and lovable. Sometimes we don’t understand how these characters should appeal to us from just their appearance (local food, vegetables, fruits, nature, historical construction, and so on), but ironically it can also be a reason to love them. Some characters scare and surprise people with their strange and original movement. The word “Yuru” comes from the Japanese adjective meaning “loose” or “slow”. That means these characters make us relax, smile, and heal based on their rough-cut and unprofessional appearances, behaviors, and names.
(Funassyi Reference: http://www.ntv.co.jp/)
The well known characters from local regions in Japan known as Yuru-Chara are Kumamon (くまモン), Funassyi (ふなっしー), and Hikonyan (ひこにゃん), along with many more. I think you’ve seen these characters if you’ve visited Japan before. They are also loved by many foreign people. They are so called “local stars”.
(Hikonyan Reference: http://hikone-hikonyan.jp/)
You would be surprised to know the number of Yuru-Charas! Actually, an incredible amount of Yuru-Charas exist everywhere in Japan! Some local governments try to make so many new characters to appeal to their local place. The marketing behind this “Yuru-Chara boom” can cost so much money. However, many of the characters can’t be famous. It looks like the market is already saturated, but more and more Yuru-Charas seem to try to join this marketing trend anyway.
Actually, because of this Yuru-Chara boom, a Grand Prix for Yuru-Chara has started officially in 2010 (http://www.yurugp.jp/). You can vote for your favorite characters online from the website. The Grand Prix of 2016 will be held on 5th and 6th of November at Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture. In 2015, 1727 Yuru-Charas joined, and more than 50 million votes were collected! That is an amazing number! You are always welcome to explore this unique Japanese Yuru-Chara world! Check out the unique characters at your destinations while traveling or living in Japan!