Intro to Image Characters, Part 1: Japan and America’s Image (Character) Problems

Japan’s infamous penchant for cutesy corporate and government mascots not necessarily aimed at children are well known and have been covered on this blog in various capacities before. These mascots are often called “image characters” in Japan (though the term can also apply to live human and animal mascots). Some examples (translations liberal and loose, just the way I like it):

  • Masumasu-kun – “Mr. Grow-and-grow” the mascot for Japan Post’s mutual fund products:
  • Gambaru Bear – “Do-your-best Bear,” representing the Japan Self-Defense Force Sapporo Regional Liaison:
  • And who can forget the national mascots for the Self Defense Forces, Prince Pickles and Parsley-chan!

  • Quiz time! Why are they called Pickles and Parsley? No cheating!

    Apparently, the SDF holds overnight tours for groups of children hosted by the mascots. Imagine spending a weekend doing semaphore and knife training with that!

    (other fun pictures of SDF largesse can be found here)

  • Ayumi and Mamoru, cartoon human rights activists brought to you by Japan’s Ministry of Justice:

  • They’re so cute they I’m sure they could even get Kim Jong Il to dance to the human rights anthem (too bad Mamoru can’t sing!).

    I could, of course, go on but I will hold off until later posts). If you love lame mascots in Japan as much as I do, be sure check out the wonderful “YuruKyara” (Dumb Characters), a mini coffeetable book with full-color photos of dozens of the things. Don’t spend too long reading it though, or their hollow eyes may eat your soul (try having a staring contest with Mamoru to see what I mean).

    Now, before you start chortling about how wacky those Japanese are, America has pretty much the same problem. This excellent report from a now-defunct blog catalogs some of America’s own lame mascots to be found on the kids sections of various government websites. Some of these things are amazingly lame, so do follow the links and check it out (article reproduced in full for your convenience and entertainment, click the headline for a cached Google link):

    Feb 13, 2006
    Why the Feds shouldn’t advertise to our kids, either.

    By Constantine von Hoffman

    There is only one thing creepier than corporations marketing to kids: The government marketing to kids. Now, I hear you say, what’s wrong with NASA teaming up with Pokemon to get our kids interested in science? Or the Centers for Disease Control creating something called The Immune Platoon of superheroes to show how your body defends itself? Or FEMA’s Herman the Spokescrab teaching children to care for themselves in the event of an emergency because you sure as heck shouldn’t rely on the government to do it? Why, nothing of course.

    Where it gets eerie is when the cops and the spy agencies start to do it. Yeah, yeah, McGruff the Crime Dog was cute … but this goes way beyond that. Were talking the National Security Agency doing anthropomorphic animals with names like Crypto Cat, Decipher Dog and Rosetta Stone (who appears to be a fox). With them the NSA hopes to entice “America’s future codemakers and codebreakers!” … but remember: Only with a warrant kids. Unless Mr. Prez says otherwise.

    Truly troubling – from a marketing standpoint – is the National Reconnaissance Office’s kids page. The NRO, in case you didn’t know, is an agency considered so important that you and I and everyone else aren’t even allowed to know the size of its budget. Suffice to say that budget must be big and it looks like they spent about $2.50 on their website. Littered (and I do mean littered) with characters named Corey Corona, Earth Watch, Whirly Lizard and Dana Drop (who? what?), it has all the aesthetic value of a not-very-talented 2nd graders rejected heroes. It is quite clear the site, like the agency, is designed not to attract attention.
    Continue reading Intro to Image Characters, Part 1: Japan and America’s Image (Character) Problems