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The Strange, Enduring Charm of Japan’s Civic Mascots

Like local sports teams or favorite regional dishes, these weird, lovable characters are now an indelible part of the identities of a generation who cannot imagine their hometowns without them.
Thousands of municipalities all over Japan have their own mascots, typically designed to reflect local produce, wildlife, or landmarks. In many cases, they create a bizarre hybrid of all three.
Thousands of municipalities all over Japan have their own mascots, typically designed to reflect local produce, wildlife, or landmarks. In many cases, they create a bizarre hybrid of all three.Chris Carlier

In April, the mayor of Mizumaki posed for pictures beside a rotund figure with a giant garlic clove for a head. This was the unveiling of Mizumaro, the town’s new mascot and the latest of many gotōchi-chara (“regional characters”). Mizumaro showcases a local point of pride, in this case the peculiarly large garlic cloves grown in this part of southwest Japan. Even though Mizumaki has a population of less than 30,000, the local government decided the town ought to have its own mascot. After all, it is less strange for a Japanese town to have a garlic-headed mascot than to have no mascot at all.

Thousands of municipalities all over Japan have their own mascots, typically designed to reflect local produce, wildlife, or landmarks. In many cases, they create a bizarre hybrid of all three. Cartoon images of these characters enliven posters and street signs, while roly-poly costumed incarnations waddle around summer festivals or hand out prizes in schools. They promote tourism, generate revenue from memorabilia sales, and are a source of regional pride.