Market View

Yuru-Kyara Boom in Japan

2013/5/23 Thursday
fromTTAccount Executive Ayano Sako
Have your ever heard of a word Yuru-Kyara? Few days ago, it was announced that the fourth annual “Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix 2013”, and regional elimination rounds have just begun.

Yuru-Kyara, which translates literally to “Loose Characters” in English, refers to mascot characters created for promotion of regional events and local specialty products. A Yuru-Kyara’s typical characteristics are full-body suit and are known for their cute but sometimes bizarre features. These somehow imperfect features are described as Yurui (“loose”) and were therefore dubbed “Yuru-kyara” by famous comic artist Jyun Miura. Since then, Yuru-Kyara have gradually gained in awareness and popularity. The Grand Prix for Yuru-kyara selects the #1 Yuru-Kyara in the nation, and at the 2012 Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix, there were 865 characters nominated, more than double that of the previous year. Moreover, overall voter turnout hit over 6.5 million and the winner of voting was announced at annual Yuru-kyara festival in Saitama Prefecture which was attended by 300,000 people.

One of the most popular Yuru-kyara over the last few years is “Kumamon” who was the winner of the 2011 Grand Prix. “Kumamon” is a huge black bear mascot who was initially created to promote tourism in Kumamoto in conjunction with the Kyushu Shinkansen line that was opened in 2011. Kumamon has 228,695 followers on Twitter and 115,279 likes on Facebook. Kumamon-related products generated at least 29 billion yen in 2012, which is more than a tenfold increase over 2011. The Yuru-Kyara boom, including the popularity of “Kumamon”, was reported in Wall Street Journal.

All of these facts demonstrate that the character market is quite large in Japan. Just how large? Character Bank Research states that in 2011, the Japanese character market stood at 1.6 trillion yen. Moreover, according to another survey conducted by Character Research Institute, about 80 per cent of its research subjects own character related products. Indeed, this research reveals that over 90 per cent of its subjects have positive image toward collecting characters and the number one reason is that people think characters have healing power. On the other hand, people tend not to hold negative images toward collecting characters such as “childishness” and “embarrassment” or that possessing characters goods means being a nerd.

I spent the last four years overseas, and there were so many people who told me they had heard that Japanese love “anime” and comic books. They found it an odd and “nerdy” affectation. But as I have explained above, Japanese people just simply like characters because they believe that characters affect people in positive ways. Undoubtedly, this wide popularity and generally positive image is the reason people are not considered nerds for their love of characters. And the boom that the cute but imperfect Yuru-kyara mascots are enjoying is just the latest manifestation of the strong appeal of mascots and the sheer size of the character market in Japan.