Cheep shot: Mascot Totto-chan’s lewd radio comments may be its last chirps

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

While the craze over regional mascots continues, recent mishaps involving some characters shows not everything is rosy in the “yuru-kyara” (soft character) industry.

Late last month, the city of Tosu, Saga Prefecture, population of 72,000, halted all PR activities tied to its official character, Totto-chan, after a performance on a late-night radio program aired by Nippon Broadcasting System ignited dozens of angry comments from the public.

The green bird character, modeled after a white-eye, made several comments suggestive of female genitalia during the show, city official Ryosuke Saito said, noting a production firm working for the radio station came up with the “inappropriate” comments. Saito noted the city created the character in 2004 to mark its 50th anniversary, but only in September was a voice added to the character.

“We did approve a PR campaign using Totto-chan’s voice through (an affiliated) city convention bureau,” Saito said. “But we were not aware of a plan to have the character perform on the radio, let alone the kind of comments it would make. . . . It comes down to our lax management of the situation.”

Totto-chan is not the only character getting into hot water. Hyakuman-san, the official character of Ishikawa Prefecture, created to mark the 2015 extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line to the city of Kanazawa, became a bone of contention in the prefectural assembly last month, after some members attacked the design of the Daruma doll-inspired, mustachioed mascot as being “ugly” and “unpleasant.”

Even Kumamon, the most successful yuru-kyara mascot yet, which is attributed to ¥29.3 billion in sales of related merchandise last year and even danced in front of the Emperor and Empress on Oct. 28, has not been trouble-free. In June 2012, the bear character’s official Twitter account was hacked, forcing its creator, Kumamoto Prefecture, to change its account name.