Arukuma, a chubby, green-colored bear wearing a red hood in the shape of an apple around its face and head, was the winner of a high-profile annual contest held in the city of Nagano on Sunday.
The cute, distinctive character, created almost nine years ago, beat 787 others from across the country and secured as many as 106,419 votes in a contest called the Yurukyara Grand Prix 2019.
It is very common for local governments and businesses in the nation to design their own cute mascot characters for public relations purposes.
In Japanese they are called yuru-kyara, which can be roughly translated as “laid-back characters,” the term emphasizing how they contrast with the more refined and sophisticated designs by professionals used at major companies.
This year’s champion officially represents the Nagano Prefectural Government. It was designed to “promote the attractiveness of Shinshu,” which is another name for Nagano Prefecture, according to the character’s official website (arukuma.jp/about)
Apples are one of the prefecture’s speciality products, but Arukuma sometimes wears hoods in the shapes of different Nagano products such as bottles of wine, matsutake mushrooms or soba noodles, or even a Buddhist temple — presumably representing Zenkoji Temple in the city of Nagano.
“I’m really happy. I will keep rooting for (Arukuma) from now on,” a woman from Tokyo was quoted as saying by public broadcaster NHK. According to the report, she has long been a big fan of the endearing green bear.