MIYAZAKI – For Hiromi Kano, head of a well-known Japanese mascot maker, the company’s costumed characters not only bring joy to people but also signify the labor of love performed by her all-female staff.
“Just as important as the happiness of customers is the happiness of our employees,” said Kano, president of Kigurumi.biz Inc., the creator of Kumamon, the popular red-cheeked black bear mascot representing Kumamoto Prefecture.
The firm, based in the city of Miyazaki, has received orders from abroad over the past few years, thanks partly to the devotion of its employees and foreign media coverage.
Kigurumi.biz employs around 30 women and has so far produced more than 2,000 outfits for kigurumi (costumed characters). It creates more than 200 mascot costumes every year at the request of governments and businesses seeking new characters for promotional events.
Kigurumi.biz boasts about its attention to detail. For one, workers make sure that more air passes through the costumes to make those who wear the suits feel more comfortable. Apart from being well-ventilated, the suits are also made of materials that are soft and safe for children who may want to touch the mascots.
“The women constantly give 120 percent. They cannot cut corners” when it comes to their work, Kano, 57, said.
With the continued popularity of local mascots, collectively known as yurukyara “loose characters” for their laid-back feel, serving as a tailwind, the firm, which used to produce displays for exhibitions and promotions, has gradually shifted its focus to character costumes.
Kano, who became president in July, has devoted her time to ensuring good working conditions for the employees, including by eliminating overtime and encouraging them to fully use their paid holidays.
“I want to create a brand that will make (customers) want to work with us,” the Miyazaki native said.