Japanese Mascots – A Chicken Thigh Samurai in Marugame
Before we arrived in Japan, I had no idea that local mascots were a thing here. But it didn’t take us long to figure it out – mascots are everywhere: on charms in gift shops, on socks, on the sides of buses. They are usually used to promote tourism to a specific town or prefecture and often feature some aspect that the area is known for – eg, the udon-noodle head of Kagawa Prefecture or the tea prince of Uji.
And they can get super popular – Kumamon and Funnasyi, two of the most popular mascots, bring in billions each year in merchandising and tourism dollars. The most famous ones also get mobbed at appearances – with huge crowds gathering for photos.
Our very first encounter with mascots was in Hiroshima, where Dmitry made friends with the mascot of a diaper-changing station.
But Dmitry wasn’t truly inspired by the mascots until we got to the town of Marugame, where we met Honetsuki Ju-ju. Honetsuki Ju-ju is a lesser known mascot (though he has been written up a few times), and he is a Chicken Thigh Samurai, meant to promote the town’s famous chicken dish and its paper fan production.
Dmitry was smitten by his chunky knitted brows and what he initially believed to be copious drops of flop sweat. According to our friend (who kindly translated Honetsuki’s backstory from Japanese):
His name is Honetsuki Ju-ju, which is something like Chicken Leg Sizzle Sizzle. His job is to teach people how to cook the meat, how to eat it, and to convey his strong passion for this meat. There are dreams stuffed into the right sleeve of his shirt (his left is empty). When he drinks beer, all the foam gets stuck on his mustache. His birthday is October 10th. He is silent and shy and is always trying very hard, so he sweats cooked meat juice. In the cartoon, he is so burning with passion for chicken leg meat (with bone), so much so that his pet turtle tells him he got singed.
The thing is, mascots really do work – there was no way that we were leaving Marugame without Dmitry trying some of that chicken (although we did not buy any paper fans). The next day we headed to Ikkaku, a local restaurant serving the chicken thigh specialty, for lunch.
Dmitry bought a key chain with Honetsuki on it and proudly displays it on his backpack. Not everyone is such a fan though. One of our Japanese tour guides was particularly not impressed. “But he is not cute! He is a middle-aged man!” She came around at least a little when Dmitry told her that he had a sleeve full of dreams though.
And lest you think that an anthropomorphic chicken thigh dripping grease is a creepy mascot, allow me to introduce you to Marimokkori – one of the mascots of Hokkaido in the north of Japan.
The name is a pun, combining the word marimo (these cute little algae balls that grow in Hokkaido’s lakes) with the word mokkori (a euphemism for, ahem, something rising under cloth).
You might think that Marimokkori is the creepiest mascot we’ve seen, but that honor actually goes to the mascot for Nara – a “baby” with antlers. As one of our tour guides said, “Even Japanese people think this is creepy.” Good to know.
In a strange coincidence of timing, we happened to learn about them at the same time that John Oliver did a feature about them on Last Week Tonight:
We haven’t acquired very many physical items on this trip, but we couldn’t resist bringing these little guys along.