The one arena the US celebrates mascots is in sports, particularly baseball. For instance, Phillie Phanatic is one of the most recognizable characters in the sport. Mascots can establish brand association and generate interest in attending events as well as merchandise sales.

Whether or not mascots are one of your main motivations for traveling Japan, they are inescapable and they are a great visual representation of local identity. Japan’s kawaii cute culture has been one of its main cultural exports, from Hello Kitty to Pikachu as characters uniquely Japanese. As Sadashige Aoki wrote in his 2014 book, “Character Power: From Yuru-kyara to National Branding,” western audiences look to mascots for something to empower you while Japanese audiences look to mascots to offer comfort and acceptance.

Japanese Mascot Tour: I want to meet that Mascot!

In short, Japanese mascots are designed to be cute, quiet, comforting, and adored by all ages. In a high stress society, mascots and kawaii culture offer an outlet to escape, relax, and enjoy the lighter side of life. These themes continue into much of Japanese marketing.

While only a “fanatic” would build their trip around seeking out the best Japanese mascots, at KiKO Japan, we will design your self-guided tour with a cheat sheet for all your local mascots! Let’s explore some of the best mascots and the Japanese hotspots they represent. 

Kumamoto Mascot: Kumamon

Japan takes that approach in all aspects of life. A mascot just makes everything better. The power of a good mascot, such as Kumamon, can draw a global audience and attention to areas lesser known. Kumamon debuted in 2010 to mark the expansion of the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kumamoto Prefecture in the island of Kyushu. In the first two years of the campaign, Kumamon was responsible for generating $1.2B through merchandise, regional product sales, and tourism. The bear’s brand value has not diminished since.

The island of Kyushu largely flies under the radar of western travelers but that will change. In less than three hours bullet train from Hiroshima, you will be in Kumamoto City in central Kyushu. Take full advantage of your JR Rail Pass and experience Japan without queuing for your perfunctory Instagram shot.   

Take a day and explore the Kumamoto Castle, soak and stay at the famous Kurokawa Onsen, and take in the local specialty cuisine, Higo beef and shochu, Japan’s other national alcoholic beverage. 

From Kumamoto, we will pair a few days exploring Kyushu for nature lovers, head to mystical Kagoshima, for onsen aficionados, Beppu, and for those looking for the best ramen styles, Fukuoka for the famous hakata ramen.  

Japanese Mascots Tours can help express the local identity

Mixing what the region is known for with a great marketing figure.

Miyagi Mascot, Musubimaru

Can you guess what Miyagi prefecture is known for? If you have not been to Japan before this may not be obvious. By your second visit to a Japanese convenience store (konbini), you will be very familiar with onigiri or omusubi, rice balls made with a variety of fillings from konbu (seasoned kelp) to salmon.

Miyagi is north of Tokyo on the main island, Honshu. In a short train ride, you are in the heart of Japanese rice growing region. Onigiri will be one of many amazing foods to try in Miyagi. Saké anyone? Contact us to discuss our saké tours. 

Nara Mascot, Sento-kun

Nara was the first permanent capital for Japan in the year 710. It’s an old city and the history is front and center as soon as you get off the train including UNESCO Heritage site, Todaiji Temple

One other thing you’ll notice right away, the deer! Deer are considered messengers of god in the Shinto religion. There are over 1,000 deer roaming Nara Park and in a city this rich in culture, the deer are the lasting memory and photos. 

Just a short train ride from both Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is a great day trip or overnight excursion. We will give you our recommendations for the local specialty, persimmon leaf sushi


Nagano Mascot, Arukuma

Nagano prefecture is a treasure. Most famous for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics and being part of the Japanese Alps, this region is underappreciated for some of it’s best year round activities in nature or around the table eating and drinking.

Less than two hours on train west from Tokyo, you will find one of the more sparsely populated prefectures of Japan. There are great small cities like Nagano City and Karuizawa, the famous snow monkeys of Yudanaka, and a host of sake and beer breweries, wineries, and some of the country’s best fruits. 

Nagano is one of our favorite spots to go. Check out our Nagano post to find out more and let us help plan your visit. You should try the apples. 

Find your Mascot, Create your Japan Story

Mascots are often the first thing that greets you when you get to a new destination. Regional mascots often incorporate local specialties such as rice from Miyagi, apples from Nagano, or the ubiquitous deer of Nara. Train stations are adorned with regional marketing and info guides with their mascot. Local snacks and toys are in stores located in the train stations so you are familiar with Musubimaru, the samurai onigiri (Japanese rice ball), before you step foot outside in Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture.

The world will grow more familiar with mascot mania this coming summer with the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. In addition to the Olympic mascots, you will surely see many of the regional players on display looking to be the next Kumamon for their city.

Not everyone can win.

And yes, some mascot campaigns will strike out. Can you guess what Yubari City in Hokkaido is famous for based on the mascot below?

Whether or not mascots are one of your main motivations for traveling Japan, they are inescapable and they are a great visual representation of local identity. Traveling with us, we will provide you a custom itinerary to support your journey with a cheat sheet on your local mascots!

Start your travel story here.

We want to hear about your dream journey. What do you want to see and eat? Are you in the planning stage or nearing takeoff? We want to get to know you and design your trip together to ensure your delight in your travel story.