Anyone who’s been to Japan knows that it’s a mascot loving country. Everything from attack choppers to Windows OS to Temples has a cute moe character representing it. I remember when I first came to Japan, the customs website had a cartoon schnauzer in a police uniform explaining the list of prohibited items upon entry.

And then we have the genre of yuru-kyara (loose mascot characters) who are more of the Disney person-in-a-mouse-suit type mascot. However, these mascots don’t represent businesses. They are the cute symbols of cities, towns, districts, or even buildings.

Across the country there is an intricate network of yuru-kyara, the sheer size and variety of which makes you begin to understand why Pokemon came from this country. Since 2010, an annual nation-wide vote has been held to choose the fairest mascot of the land. For the Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix 2012, 6,500,000 votes were cast to rank the 865 official mascots who entered.

Before getting into the results here’s brief video introduction to yuru-kyara. This video was shot at an event introducing a fleet of electric taxis in Osaka.  Present are six Yuru-Kyara from various districts.

I don’t know why but I find these things hypnotic to watch. I’m not really amused by them, but they’re fascinating on a level I don’t even understand.

Only two of these mascots took part in the 2012 Grand Prix. Kushi-kun, the orange one with the square head that’s actually deep fried meat on a skewer, got a respectable 347th place with 1,578 votes.  The cat, Minyamin, didn’t fare as well getting only 667th place and 283 votes.

So who did win? Let’s take a look.

1st (547,284 votes) – Bari-san

Hailing from Imabari city, Ehime Prefecture, who prides themselves on their chicken dishes, Bari-san is enjoying this success after a narrow defeat in last year’s Grand Prix landed him in second place.

2nd (462,970) – Choruru

Yamaguchi City may be X-mas City this month, but for the entire prefecture of Yamaguchi only Choruru has the energy for the job. His high octane aura lit a fire under the voters this year.

3rd (260,512) – Gunma-chan

Gunma-chan has been handling the PR of Gunma Prefecture remarkably well.  His various print and TV appearances has allowed him to build a large following and third place in this year’s Grand Prix.

4th (163,258) – Sanomaru

Sanomaru is dressed in traditional samurai garb to represent the castle town of Sano city, Tochigi Prefecture. Sano is also famous for its ramen which Sanomaru proudly wears on his head.

5th (158,343) – Fukka-chan

Fukka-chan represents the city of Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture.  As you might guess from its headgear, Fukaya is the leading producer of leeks in the country. Fukka-chan has been steadily climbing the rankings and is slated as a favorite for next year’s Grand Prix.

6th (141,723) – Shimaneko

Fukka-chan will have to keep its eye-holes on Shimaneko from Shimane Prefecture.  This pikachuesque cat shot up from 27th place last year.

7th (137,099) – Shusse Daimyo Ieyasu-kun

I really have to wonder what the real former shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa would say if he were alive to see this. Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka Prefecture is the home of Tokugawa’s castle.  He wears a keyboard robe to represent Hamamatsu’s role as an instrument producer.  I don’t know why he has an eel on his head, though.

8th (127,820) – Yanana

Coming from representing the small shopping arcade of Yangase in Gifu city, Gifu Prefecture, Yanana was the break out success of the 2010 Grand Prix, reaching 3rd place. Since then she has settled to a still respectable 8th place. Sadly, she announced her retirement making this Yanana’s final Grand Prix.

9th (122,161) – Ayu-KORO-chan

If that last story bummed you out, have no fear. Ayu-KORO-chan is always the life of the party.  Representing two of Kanagawa Prefecture’s Atsugi city’s favorite foods ayu fish and pig organs, it’s also dressed to chill out in Atsugi’s famous hot springs.

10th (114,600) – Takinomichi Yuzuru

Takinomichi Yuzuru represents Minoh city, Osaka Prefecture’s plentiful production of the sour citrus fruit yuzu. Takinomichi Yuzuru’s popularity may be waning, however, as it slipped from 9th to 10th place this year.

So there’s the top 10 mascots of the Mascot Grand Prix 2012. But I have to wonder; Who ended up in last place?

865 (4) – Popian

Popian is a blending of the words “Californian poppy” which resides in Osaka Prefecture’s Sakai city Urban Garden, and “angel”.  So, if you haven’t been blinded by its colors, you can read its full name as “California Poppy Angel.” Confused? So was everyone else apparently.

That should wrap it up for the Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix 2012.  See you next year!

Source: Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix 2012 via Matome Naver (Japanese)

Here’s a five minute tour of some 2011 participants. I have this on a continuous loop in my home.

Last year’s champion, Kumamon, attempting to ride a bike