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Relax and Promote Your Town with Yuru Kyara

2018.01.26

It is said that there are myriads of gods in Japan.  In the mountains, oceans, rivers, woods, trees, flowers, even in each room and corridor in a house, there are gods guarding their own turf and making sure everything is fine in their territories.  Japanese people pay respects to all of them, seeing that everything surrounding you has life and soul.

The psyche of “everything has its own soul/spirit” is definitely one of the underlying reasons why Japanese market is filled with mascots with cute and expressive faces.  The personification of almost everything comes very naturally.  This leads to the birth of Yuru Kyara.

“Yuru Kyara” – Representing the Local Spirits


The root of the “Yuru Kyara” phenomenon goes back to 1980s.  Funding from Central Government to local Government decreased and local economies were shrinking, so that municipal offices around the country had to promote themselves to thrive.

One of the spearheads of this movement was the governor of Kumamoto prefecture, the birthplace of the best-loved Yuru Kyara, Kumamon.  Then-governor, Morihiro Hosokawa became Prime Minister in 1993, but that is a side story.

The name Yuru Kyara was devised by a columnist, Jun Miura, in 2000.  He wrote a series of columns about “Yuru Kyara Folklore” on a niche magazine Hyper Hobby, which specialises in TV superheroes.  Believing in its potential, Miura went on to produce the first Yuru Kyara show in 2002 and published its DVD in 2003.  Public attention started to grow, and the column was moved to a more major magazine, SPA!.

Initially, some local governments refused interviews, as they thought it made a mockery of and would undermine their efforts.  After all, the word YURU means slack and loose.  But he kept on going, and in 2004, 70 characters from all over Japan gathered in Tokyo Dome.

What Is Yuru Kyara?


There are three criteria to qualify as Yuru Kyara.

Strong affection and attachment to the local area it represents

Unique and unstable movement

Lovable slackness

Also, it should be represented in a physically interactive manner as a live costume character.

The lovable nature must stem from the love of hometown felt by local people.  The involvement of professional marketing companies would result in a diminution of affectionate slackness of the character.  They slowly grew in recognition, and the Yuru Kyara population was on the rise.

The big change came in 2006 in a shape of Hikonyan.  She is a Samurai helmet-wearing cat who promotes Hikone City and its national treasure castle.  The character is based on the local legendary “Maneki Neko” cat, who helped the Samurai master in the 17th century.  With a convincing background story, simple message and her cuteness, she singlehandedly kicked off Yuru Kyara Boom.  It is reported that the visitor to Hikone City and the castle has doubled within 5 years of the birth of Hikonyan.  After eleven years, she is going strong.

http://hikone-hikonyan.jp/

Yuru Kyara Grand-Prix


After this, the Yuru Kyara population exploded, as the negative image of being called slack and loose has been wiped out.  In many cases, despite the connection with local businesses, professional promotors were beginning to get heavily involved.  The characters are getting further away from the original definition number 1.

There are many festivals gathering Yuru Kyara from many places.  The biggest is the Yuru Kyara Grand-Prix, started in 2010, and in 2016, a total of 1421 characters entered, compare this to 70 characters in 2004 original event, of which 842 were local (they call this Local Kyara to distinguish them from others), and 579 were corporate.

http://www.yurugp.jp/

No entry fee is required, and the organization helps the local governments, especially small ones without resources, to promote themselves on the social media through the characters.  The spirit and objective of having Yuru Kyara are strictly undisturbed here.

There is a criticism that Local Governments are spending too much time and money on these characters and the effect is limited, or not properly reviewed.  The corporate characters are used in a more professional way for marketing.  Even then, some feel that it is at saturation point.  It is necessary to pay a lot of attention and effort, sometimes with professional input and analysis, to stand out.  It is to an extent becoming a business itself, rather than a promotional tool.

However, there are some exceptional cases to which all of them aspire.

The champion of 2011 was the most famous local Yuru Kyara, Kumamon, representing Kumamoto Prefecture which was one of the biggest promoters of the local economy back in the 1980s.

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