Kids love mascots. That goes without saying. If they didn't, the Phillie Phanatic, the San Diego Chicken, and Ronald McDonald wouldn't exist. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse wouldn't troll around theme parks. And Japan would be nowhere as cute.
Where do you see mascots in Japan? Everywhere. They're on the trains - railroad companies have mascots, and sometimes individual rail lines have their own mascots. There are at least three shinkansen (bullet train) mascots that I know of. The post office, convenience stores, point cards, manufacturers, and just about every single entity that deals with the public has a mascot. The English school I teach for has a mascot, and our elementary school textbook line has its own macsot of sorts.
Japan itself must have an official mascot - possibly many more. Each branch and division probably has a mascot. Prefectures have mascots, and towns even have their own mascots. Fukushima is the prefecture and major city most affected by the earthquake in 2011 - the nuclear power plants are located in the prefecture. It is also the name of a company that makes refrigerators. Here is that company's mascot:
It's name is Fukuppi. That's pronounced "Foo-koo-pee" and is a combination of "Fuku" from Fukushima and "ppi" or "ppy" from the word "happy". Unfortunately, they named their character "Fukuppy" using English characters, which sounds a lot like the adjective form of a dirty word.
The image spread quickly around the internet and in fact we were talking about it at work today. The simplest, most effective change is to simply change the y to an i - and some other ideas would be Fukupi, Fuku-Pi, Fuku Pi, or some other variation which would keep the pronunciation the same while looking less offensive.
Now, how important is the mascot? The company has issued two apology letters on its website about the name already and removed the English text from the graphic. And because the company has the same name as the town, many people (including myself, until I had a chance to see the actual website) associated the mascot with the town.
But I like the little egg, and the name is cute if pronounced properly.
Japanese baseball teams have mascots too. Each team has a few, actually - one or two main characters (usually a male and a female) and three or four extra characters, which might be family members or friends of the mascots, or completely unrelated characters. Plus, some mascots have multiple versions (note the eco-friendly mascot below). And the first set to exclusively feature mascots (that I'm aware of) was released in 2011 - it's a box set by BBM titled Our Friends. The cards from that set are shown below.
Not all mascots are in the set, by the way. BBM released a second Our Friends set this year with even more cards, and that means even more mascots. I have been looking for a set lately but haven't come across one.
This 2011 set has posed pictures behind a starburst style background, with the character's name, jersey number (if applicable) and team name, and the set's logo at the bottom. The backs give a bit of history on the characters (back-of-card scan is at the end of the post). The box set includes the 45 base cards you see here, plus one of 40 autographed cards.
I am curious about who signs the mascot autograph cards. Does only one person play each character, and thus have a unique, distinct signature? How often do mascots change performers? Mascot signatures have appeared on BBM cards for several years now - are the signatures on the 2013, 2011, and 2008 cards from the same person?
Anyway, here are the cards in order.