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A land of contrasts.
A land where ancient customs and rituals coincide with-
oh my god, is that a bear with a melon for a head?!
What's that panda doing with that tongue?
And what the devil is that!? Jesus!
What, with Halloween fast approaching I wanted to make a video
on something truly shocking and disturbing.
And whilst my face alone would usually fit that description,
this year, time and again, I've come across Japanese mascot characters
that look like they've been ripped out of Stephen King's imagination.
So, today, I want to show you just how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
I've assembled ten of the most obscene and disturbing characters
that I've found on my travels around the country.
But the first thing you need to know is Japanese mascots, known as 'Yurukyara',
are big business in Japan.
Not that long ago, I was passing through Kyushu in the south
when I came face-to-face with the richest mascot in the country:
Kumamon the bear, who is said to be worth a billion dollars to the local economy,
originally conceived to promote Kumamoto Prefecture when a new bullet train line opened in 2010.
In 2011, he was ranked as the number one yurukyara in all of Japan,
with his newfound fans snapping up every manner of Kumamon-branded paraphernalia
they could get their hands on.
Meanwhile, Kumamon the superstar traveled the country on horseback,
and mingling with the rich and famous.
At first, I couldn't understand how a simple mascot, designed to promote a public initiative,
had gone on to become so ubiquitous and popular around the country.
And it wasn't until I spoke to a Japanese mascot expert that it all became a lot clearer.
[Ryotaro-- I mean, Roger Takeshi speaking Japanese with a heavy accent.]
After Kumamon's raging success, the game had changed
and now you can scarcely walk down the street in Japan without bumping into a character
who's become the sentient manifestation of a product, a place, or a public initiative.
Case in point: trying to promote Bollywood movies to a Japanese audience?
Try Naanko-chan, a walking talking piece of naan bread.
Running an anti-drugs campaign, but want to make it fun?
Meet 'No Dora-kun', a knotted blue syringe with an awkward slogan on the front:
'No drug,
know drug.'
Hell, even Amazon has its own character:
'Pochi the dog', which is a dog made out of cardboard boxes.
... I quite like that one.
Some places have gone the extra mile and actually turned real life animals into their mascot.
A few years ago I presented a documentary about Japan's cats obsession,
and for one segment we went to the prefecture of Wakayama, just outside of Osaka,
to feature an astounding story about a cat called 'Tama-chan'.
A struggling railway station had adopted a stray cat,
put it in a hat and turned it into a stationmaster to greet arriving passengers.
It sounds really quite clever, but all they've done was put a cat in a hat and stick it on a pedestal by the entrance.
55,000 people in the first year came to see the cat,
and it generated 10 million dollars for the local economy, all to see a slightly bemused cat in a hat.
It begs the question: why the fuck didn't I think of that myself?
In fact, so inspired was I by the story of Tama-chan, I went out and bought my very own cat mascot:
Mr Snuggles.
...whose subsequent appearances led to an increase in views, subscribers, likes and comments.
It seemed like the good times were never gonna end.
... And then lots of viewers pointed out that Mr Snuggles looked a little bit like Hitler.
And, begrudgingly, I had to fire him before viewers thought I had some sort of... malicious, hidden agenda.
Though, this afternoon, I do think I might have found...
I think I might've found an alternative.
I was wandering aimlessly through a shopping mall
when I came face-to-face with a cheeky looking toy called 'DJ Bear'.
I'm not sure what it was that drew me to the character.
Maybe it was the cumbersome expression on the front saying,
"I copy what you said!"
... or perhaps it was simply his deeply unnerving expression.
Either way, here he is - DJ Bear!
What I like about this is, unlike Mr Snuggles, who was just, in effect, an inanimate object,
DJ Bear can actually move and do something.
So he can potentially provide an invaluable contribution.
[To DJ Bear] 'Hello'
[An amazingly awful remix with Chris' 'hello'.]
Chris: *breathes*--- [DJ Bear plays the same remix music again]
[and it continues...]
... What a twat.
[This time, an enlightening remix with just the word 'twat'.]
On the island of Hokkaido, there's a town called Yubari,
famous for having the most obscenely expensive melons on the planet:
Yubari King melon.
But how expensive can a melon really be, you ask?
Well, this year, two Yubari King melons went for $45,000!
5 million yen for some fruit! Two melons!
I don't get it, and whilst I'd like to tell you the real horror in this story is the melons going to $45,000,
the town of Yubari cashed in on this melon craze by creating a fun-loving, cute, cuddly mascot,
know only as: Melon Bear.
Half melon, half bear, and half children's nightmare.
I first came across Melon Bear on a trip to Sapporo two years ago,
when he caught my friend Natsuki's attention for his unusual teeth.
[CB]: Oh my god.
[Natsuki]: Dental.
[Natsuki trying to sort his thoughts out on Melon Bear's teeth.]
Hokkaido is actually home to quite a lot of bears,
and the story of his genesis goes that, a bear sunk its teeth into a juicy Yubari melon.
And since then, Melon Bear's gone on to sink his teeth into the competition.
[CB]: Take that, Kumamon! Try meeting Keanu Reeves with your head ripped off.
But Melon Bear is just one of many terrifying mascots to come out of Hokkaido.
One of Sapporo's most iconic buildings is the old Clock Tower building in the heart of the city.
It actually became an issue that tourists were going to see the Clock Tower and were left feeling underwhelmed by its appearance - myself admittedly included.
And so, a local video game company came up with a solution to appease the hordes of ungrateful tourists who failed to appreciate the 19th century architecture.
They created 'Haunted Clock Guy'.
Modeled on the Clock Tower, he is the literal representation of the horrors of traveling all the way to Sapporo to see the famous clock tower
only to be horribly disappointed by its appearance.
Apparently, its creator's objective was to, and I quote, 'create an impact that tourists will never forget'.
And it certainly is no easy task wiping the image of Haunted Tokei (Clock) Guy attempting to dine on a woman's head out of your memory.
Still, not all the mascots on this list involve a character trying to rip someone's head off.
... Um, although the next one-- well, I suppose the next one kind of does...
Earlier on we saw No Dora-kun, an anti-drug campaign with a noble aim to inspire children to 'no drug' and also to 'know drug'.
And it's important to point out that this character was a rejected idea for an anti-drugs campaign in Kyoto.
And, uh... I'm not really sure why to be honest...
Oh, wait...
To be fair, if a vampire-dinosaur-skeleton with half a dozen syringes for teeth doesn't stop you from taking drugs,
nothing will.
I can't help but think this was an opportunity to do something really, really quite special.
And it boggles the mind that whilst this one didn't get commissioned, the next one did.
This is Takapou-kun. A sentient runway who is the mascot for Takumatsu Airport.
And there is a sense from his glazed expression that not even he really knows why he exists.
I mean, that is a face of a sentient runway having an existential crisis about its own existence
... which is not sentence I ever hope to say out loud again.
But there's a sense that, in all seriousness, they could have chosen something a little bit better.
At least pick something that has movement!
... Well.
Within reason, anyway.
Meanwhile, in the nearby prefecture of Kochi,
the region is famous for having amongst the highest consumption of alcohol in all of Japan,
and as a result, the locals have a god-like mascot to comfort the inebriated townsfolk.
'Bero-Bero no Kamisama'.
Literally the 'God of Drunk'.
He's a nude pink, spiral-eyed figure who is said to protect you on a night out.
Close inspection of his marketing materials reveals that he, number one: protects you from having a hangover,
number two: gives you more sexual power,
and above all, number three: he protects you from falling down the stairs.
Perfect! Finally. A mascot we can all believe in.
...unlike the next one.
Oh, god, no... Really?
This is Ojinyan. Literally a large, yellow cat with the face of an old man.
Created by a Tokyo-based talent agency, apparently Ojinyan likes to sing and dance for the children.
... That is, the children that haven't run out of the room screaming in terror.
As somebody who has seen a cat at least once,
I think I can say with a degree of certainty that this character is stretching the definition of what a cat is.
And it's definitely not something I want to leave in a room with children.
Then again, the same could be said for the next character on our list:
Tagopan. A panda with a not at all unpleasantly lengthy tongue,
who travels around Hokkaido tasting the local gourmet foods.
And while he's not stuffing himself with the regional dishes of Hokkaido, he's off licking faces of other mascots,
like a family-friendly version of the Licker monster from Resident Evil.
The Chiba Lotte Marines Baseball Team of an ever-changing mascot
known as 'Nazo no Sakana', literally 'The Mysterious Fish'.
And like an evolving Pokemon,
what started out as a simple mysterious fish eventually gave birth to a mysterious... skeleton... fish... thing.
The skeleton creature itself evolved into a giant fish head.
The only question remains: what comes next in Nazo no Sakana's evolution?
We've seen an awful lot of bears today from Hokkaido,
and this one is by far my favorite.
Say hello to 'Zombear'.
A zombie bear from Otaru town who has his own appetizing brand of blue curry.
Ooh, delicious(!)! Yeah(!)!
The story goes that Zombear has been wandering the streets of Hokkaido for 70 years in search of his owner,
like some sort of undead Winnie the Pooh.
Turns out, Zombear has his own website with his own backstory.
It seems part of the reason he's failed to find his owner
is because he has, and I quote, 'No sense of direction of extreme.'
'The number of times to get lost in many cases'
'But luck is very good.'
And after looking at Zombear's merchandise in range, it does actually seem that luck is very good.
Uh, I mean, the Zombear's pants are completely sold out.
Perhaps surprisingly, Zombear isn't the only character with his own brand of curry.
Down in Hyogo prefecture in the town of Fukusaki,
they've created what many people believe to be the most terrifying mascot yet.
Say hello to 'Gajiro', a demon from Japanese folklore said to lure people into rivers and drown them.
Yehey- what?
Fukusaki town was actually the birthplace of a famous folklore expert: Kunio Yanagita.
Gajiro takes advantage of his reputation, not only turning the mythical creature into reality,
but even installing a mechanical version in the local town pond that pops out and scares passers-by.
Although thankfully, unlike the folklore, it doesn't drag you in, kicking and screaming to your death.
And whilst he might look utterly terrifying at first glance,
and indeed, second and third glance,
his long, flowing black hair gives him something of a rockstar-like appearance that the locals have been quick to capitalize on.
But Fukasaki town knows exactly what it's doing.
To quote the creator of the character in the local government,
'There are already plenty of cute characters around the nation.'
Exactly! There are hundreds of cute, cuddly mascots around the country that are ultimately dull and easily forgettable.
The race is on to keep the bar high, and to keep producing mascot characters that'll inspire nightmares in children for generations to come.
So there you have it guys! Some of the weirdest and creepiest mascots out there in Japan today.
But which was your favorite? Go ahead and let me know in the comments below.
There is an amazing Twitter account called Mondo Mascots - probably my favorite Twitter account that I follow - posting new characters daily from around the country.
And, if you liked what you saw today and you want to see more mascots, I highly recommend checking it out.
And I have to say a big thanks to Chris at Mondo Mascots for helping me in my research for the mascots in this video.
Without him - without Mondo Mascots, this video would not have been possible, so huge thanks.
But for now though guys, as always, many thanks for watching and I'll see you next time.
I'm off to, uh... well, to find a new mascot character.
I don't think this guy here - don't think he's gonna make the final cut.
[DJ Bear's haunting remixing returns.]
[... and it continues...]