Futuristic, traditionally attired superheroes selected as Tokyo 2020 mascots

by Magdalena Osumi and Sakura Murakami

Staff Writers

Tokyo 2020 organizers unveiled Wednesday the official mascots for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, based on a futuristic vision of the world with the two characters decked out in traditional blue-checkered and a pink cherry-blossom-theme attire, respectively.

“(These designs) embody tradition, the future, cuteness and sophistication, and I believe that they represent today’s Japan perfectly,” said Yoshiko Ikoma, deputy head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics mascot selection panel. “They are cute and at the same time they’re cool.”

The winning mascots for the games were selected by the elementary school students nationwide and overseas who were given three proposals to choose from.

Ryohei Miyata, chairperson of the mascot selection panel, commented that the winning design best encapsulates and shows how innovation is born from the harmony between progressiveness and tradition — a belief that underlies the brand policy of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The winning designs for the Olympics and the Paralympics were created by Ryo Taniguchi, a 43-year-old character designer and illustrator from Fukuoka Prefecture, whose works have been featured in English-language school textbooks.

“(When designing) these characters, I referred to the flag handover performance at the closing ceremony of the recently held summer Olympic Games in Rio,” Taniguchi told a jam-packed news conference following the announcement.

The ceremony was held at Hoyonomori Gakuen, an elementary school in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, where 561 students participated in the voting process.

“I thought that something combining futuristic and traditional elements would perfectly fit the image of Japan and Tokyo,” he said. He added he wanted to share the good news with his wife in return for her support.

The official Olympic mascot is said to have a strong sense of justice, is athletic and has the ability to go anywhere instantaneously. The Paralympic character has a kind heart, loves nature and can move objects by looking at them.

The second shortlisted design set featured an Olympic character based on a traditional lucky cat and inari fox — which also symbolizes luck — and a Paralympic character resembling a guardian dog often seen at Shinto shrines. The third design— a fox for the Olympics and a tanuki (raccoon dog) for the Paralympics — was inspired by traditional fairy tales.

The three candidates were shortlisted in December from a total of 2,042 design submissions from the public. Elementary school students cast their votes between Dec. 11 and Feb. 22.

A total of 205,755 classes from 16,769 elementary schools, including international schools and Japanese schools overseas, participated in the selection process. Each class could cast a single vote in favor of one of the three competing entries.

Taniguchi’s design received 109,041 votes, while the two other finalists secured 61,423 and 35,291 votes, respectively.

Elementary school students waved paper fans featuring each mascot and screamed in excitement when the winning mascot design was unveiled.

“I hope these mascots will give energy to the athletes participating in the games,” Yoshinari Jitsukawa, a sixth grader who goes to Hoyonomori Elementary school, told reporters after the announcement. He said he was very happy to hear the news that the design he had voted for won, and that taking part in the selection process had been a great experience, making him feel like he was “part of (the games).”

He added that he was thinking about becoming an athlete and possibly trying to take part in the Olympics as a ping-pong player.

Miyu Kawa, 12, another Hoyonomori Elementary school student, said her class voted for the winning design in the belief that the cherry blossom motif and the Olympic character’s traditional checkered pattern best represented Japan and were the most appealing. She added that she hoped Tokyo’s mascots would live up to the popularity of Soohorang and Bandabi, the Korean mythological white tiger and Asiatic black bear mascots featured at the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics, with the Olympics having ended last Sunday.

“I’d like to support the athletes (during the Tokyo 2020 Games) as a volunteer,” she added.

The mascots will be featured at various events and on products related to the games.

Taniguchi will be awarded ¥1 million and a ticket to the opening ceremonies of both the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Designers of other two shortlisted entries will receive ¥100,000 each.

The mascots’ names will be chosen based on feedback from creative professionals and will be announced in the summer.