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As one of the most scenic sections of one of Japan’s most beautiful cities, Kyoto’s Arashiyama isn’t exactly hurting for tourists. Still, the neighborhood is looking to attract even more visitors, and in doing so has decided to employ Japan’s current favorite travel marketing technique by creating a yuru-kyara, or local mascot.

Designers actually had multiple ways they could have gone with this, such as playing up the area’s historic temples or beautiful bamboo groves. In the end, they drew their inspiration from the Togetsukyou Bridge, which was first constructed in the early 9th century.

But while that’s a fine choice, we can’t help but question the final design for the character, in which a portion of the bridge is dumped on the back of the vaguely humanoid creature called Wataru Tsukihashi.

The current Togetsukyou is actually a reconstruction that was built in 1934. Nonetheless, it remains Arashiyama’s most recognized landmark, with a look that’s both elegant and traditional.

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Wataru Tsukihashi, on the other hand, has an appearance that could be better described as bizarre, and maybe even a little disturbing.

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His name becomes Tsukihashi Wataru if you say it Japanese-style, with the family name first. It’s written in kanji as 月橋渡, and if you rearrange those characters so they become 渡月橋, they’re read as Togetsukyou.

Aside from this linguistic tie-in, Wataru has a few sections of the Togetsukyou’s hand railing running parallel to his spine, and is often seen crawling about on all fours to further drive home his bridge-like image. While his posture probably tempts some admirers to climb up on his back and walk across it, his creators ask that fans refrain from such behavior, as doing so “would break not just the railing, but his heart as well.”

Despite Wataru’s most often used phrase being “suimasen,” (an alternate version of “sumimasen”/”excuse me”), on occasion he’s been seen to stand tall. As a matter of fact, after months of showing up on sightseeing maps and merchandise following his debut in March of this year, Wataru recently met his public for the first time in –person, or in-bridge-person, to be precise.

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Last Monday afternoon, Twitter users spotted Wataru in front of Arashiyama Station, from where he strolled to the Oigawa River and Togetsukyou, greeting passers-by along the way.

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Still, in the world of yuru-kyara, there’s sometimes a fine line between cute and creepy, and Japanese Internet users haven’t quite decided which side of the divide Wataru lands on.

“What the heck? He totally looks like a youkai monster.”
“Wataru’s so cute it hurts!”
“Terrifying. If he came running towards me in the night, I’d pee myself.”
“I totally want to visit Kyoto now, so as a yuru-kyara; he’s a complete success.”

Your next chance to meet Wataru will be at the upcoming Arashiyama Walk Rally, which is being held on September 27 and 28 and sounds like a pretty active event for a character whose official profile lists his age as somewhere around 1,180 years old (meaning his birthday synchs up with the construction date of the original Togetsukyou).

If you can’t make it out to Kyoto then, you can always follow Wataru on Twitter, where he signs off on each and every tweet with “suimasen.” Should you happen to be in the “Wataru makes me pee my pants” camp, though, we won’t blame you if you choose not to add him to your follow list.

Related: Arashiyama Walk Rally website
Source: IT Media
Top image: Kyoto Smile Tsushin
Insert images: Exblog, Twitter (1, 2)