Distinguished by charming designs and cheerful, encouraging attitudes, a wide variety of regional mascot characters can be found all over Japan. Many promote local tourism, others are mascots for companies, and some even act as guides to encourage healthy and happy living. Character designs and names typically incorporate references to local history, regional specialties, and often feature clever word play. Here are just a few of the friends that can be found around Kyoto prefecture.
Kyoto Prefecture Public Relations Division
Is it an egg? Perhaps a marshmallow? Actually, this little fellow is based on a silkworm cocoon, or mayu, as an homage to the silk used to make Kyoto’s renowned kimono fabrics and other beautiful textiles. As the public relations officer for Kyoto, this gentle soul with big doe eyes strives to promote Japan’s ancient capital with the hope that everyone will grow to love it just as much as he does. You can see Mayumaro on his various social media sites wearing different costumes and actively promoting Kyoto Prefecture at various locations.
The story goes that Sanjo-Tohri was born during the Heian period (794–1185) and served as a counselor for the Imperial court. While out for a stroll, he slipped and fell into the Kamogawa river and was mysteriously transported into the future. Fascinated by the bustling downtown Sanjō-dōri street shopping area, he decided to remain in our era while doing his best to support local shops and events.
Sanjo-Tohri’s name plays off the similar pronunciations between tori (bird) and the elongated tōri (street) that is used in the street name Sanjō-dōri. Also, his eboshi hat is the traditional headwear of a Heian court noble. Literally meaning “crow hat”, the accessory adds a historical touch as well as bit of bird-related charm.
“DO YOU KYOTO?” Campaign
The official mascot of the “DO YOU KYOTO?” campaign, Eco-chan inspires people to help the environment and support the ideals of the Kyoto Protocol by encouraging efficient energy use, cleaning up after ourselves, and avoiding wasteful habits. For example, once every month Kyoto residents are encouraged to use public transportation instead of personal cars for their commute. Eco-chan logo marks can be seen sporadically throughout Kyoto at local businesses and public spaces as friendly reminders to all of us to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Tawawa-chan was created in 2004 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the construction of Kyoto Tower. With her wide-eyed and vibrant expression, Tawawa-chan seems to always be in awe of the breathtaking city around her. Just like the actual tower standing proudly over the city, Tawawa-chan watches over the people of Kyoto, wishing for their happiness. She even makes appearances at Kyoto Tower, so you might have a chance to meet her.
Oujichama in Chacha Kingdom
This adorable little boy is the local mascot of Uji city in Kyoto and the 88th prince of the tea-related Chacha Kingdom. While a prince would normally be referred to with the honorific suffix “sama”, he prefers “chama”, a term that is both childishly cute and includes the word for tea (cha). As a matter of fact, there is no shortage of tea puns from this tiny tyke who dons a crown that resembles a tea whisk and is always sucking on his matcha-flavored pacifier. You are likely to spot His Royal Highness while visiting Uji city where he strives in earnest to promote Uji’s delicious tea to the world.
Arashiyama Shopping District
Tsukihashi Wataru, or Wataru-kun, as he is affectionately called, is the official mascot for the Arashiyama shopping district. When his name is arranged in the Western order (Wataru Tsukihashi) the kanji characters can also be read as Togetsukyō, the name of Arashiyama’s iconic bridge. In fact, Wataru-kun sports the bridge motif on his back! While this peculiar character is not always the best with words and tends to end his messages with the timid apology, “suimasen…”, Wataru-kun works hard with the hope that everyone will fall in love with Arashiyama.
Kinukake no Michi Street
Kinukake-san is the quirky ghost mascot of Kinukake-no-michi, a road linking three World Heritage Sites (Kinkaku-ji, Ryōan-ji, and Ninna-ji temples) and other scenic landmarks in Kyoto. The story goes that he was a mid-Heian era playboy led to an early grave by a woman he had wronged. Longing for the excitement of our world, he came back as an apparition and has been hanging around his old haunts ever since.
Kinukake, literally “draped in silk” is a reference to a famous command by Emperor Uda (866–931). The emperor wanted to be able to see a snowy landscape even in summer and had the nearby mountainside covered in white silk. Like many ghost costumes, it seems Kinukake-san is cloaked in a sheet as well, albeit one with campy polka-dots. Additionally, a kanji character used in his name is a playful homophone referencing ghosts.
Kyoto Railway Museum
Umetetsu is an energetic young swallow who simply adores trains. He loves them so much that he used to visit the former Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum every day. When the museum was expanded and modernized into the new Kyoto Railway Museum in 2016, he simply and confidently proclaimed himself its mascot. Umetetsu even made his own hat and leather bag, just like those used by railway staff. From his bright rosy cheeks to his determined expression, we can see his overflowing enthusiasm for learning and sharing everything he can about trains.
Police Maron and Police Miyako
Kyoto Prefectural Police
Representing Kyoto Prefectural Police Headquarters, Police Maron and Police Miyako do their best to ensure Kyoto is a safe and happy place for all. Modeled after law enforcement officials from the Heian period, the colleagues don Heian-style clothing as they go out on patrol. The female officer’s name, Miyako, means “capital” and is a reference to Kyoto being the former capital of Japan. Maron’s name was chosen because Maro was a popular name in ancient times and, amusingly, because his head shape resembles a chestnut (maron). They both love Kyoto foods, traditional games, and are even skilled in traditional Japanese martial arts, so Kyoto is definitely in good hands.
Kyoto National Museum
The official mascot of the Kyoto National Museum is Kogata Rinnojō, but you can call him Torarin. His name is created by combining the words tora, or tiger, and Rinpa, a major historical school of Japanese painting. Torarin was modeled after a famous ink painting by Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), a celebrated artist of the Rinpa school. The character’s monochromatic design and brushstroke-style lines are evocative of the original work that depicts a tiger sitting in a bamboo grove. With his eyes shifted to the side, Torarin is a bit mischievous and brimming with curiosity. Torarin makes periodic appearances at the museum, so you might even have the privilege of meeting this cool cat during your visit.
Miyako-kun and Kyo-chan
Kyoto Municipal Transportation Bureau
As mascots for the Kyoto Municipal Transportation Bureau, Kyo-chan and Miyako-kun help people navigate Kyoto and visit the city’s wonderful sites. The two are often featured on posters for Kyoto tourism and travel information. Mole-like Miyako-kun sports a conductor’s hat and represents the Kyoto Municipal Subway. Kyo-chan is modeled after the Kyoto city bus and is adorably decorated with a vivid camellia, one of Kyoto city’s official flowers. Both of their names mean “capital” and are terms used to refer to Kyoto’s reign as capital of Japan that lasted for over a millennium.