The Olympic Mascots Aren’t Winning Any Medals
Before the pandemic, the Japanese designer who created the Olympic and Paralympic mascots predicted that they would become the “face of the Games”.
It didn’t quite turn out that way. The two mascots are ubiquitous in Olympic merchandise sold in Tokyo as the Games unfold. But in a country where mascots play a major role in corporate branding and merchandising, they’ve mostly been a low-key presence at the very event for which they were designed.
Japanese audiences aren’t really swooning over them either, according to fans and experts who study the nation’s mascot industry. The mascots’ social media profiles are modest, and a common complaint is that their names – Miraitowa and Someity – are hard to remember.
Miraitowa is the Olympic mascot and Someity represents the Paralympic Games, which are scheduled to take place in Tokyo from August 24 to September 5.
“In the whirlwind of all the Olympic controversy, I think the mascots got forgotten somewhere along the way,” said Yuki Fuka, 46, as she strolled through the Olympic stadium with her daughter this weekend. end. “The Games have just started and their existence is already an afterthought. “
Every Olympics since 1972 has had an official mascot, but Miraitowa and Someity are competing in a crowded local domain as Japan already has thousands of whimsical and goofy creatures known as yuru-chara that have been created. to promote their hometowns.
Perhaps Japan’s best-known mascot is Kumamon, a teddy bear from Kumamoto Prefecture who helped popularize the yuru-chara phenomenon a decade ago. The nastiest is almost certainly Chiitan, an unauthorized “fairy baby” mascot from Susaki City who has previously been suspended from Twitter for her violent antics.
On Tuesday, the Olympic and Paralympic mascots had around 15,000 Instagram followers, a small fraction of Chiitan’s nearly 900,000. Miraitowa had posted only 70 times on the platform in two years.
Are Miraitowa and Someity hated or even hated? Not at all. They were just a little, well, disappointing.
“They’re not hated from a design point of view. They appear to be functional. They seem to be doing a good job, ”said Jillian Rae Suter, professor of computer science at Shizuoka University, southwest of Tokyo, who has studied Japanese mascots. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion for them.”
The mascots, who first appeared in public three summers ago, were chosen from a shortlist by elementary school students from across Japan and nominated by a jury of the Olympic Organizing Committee. Chris Carlier, a British writer and illustrator in Tokyo who runs Mondo Mascots, a website and Twitter feed about yuru-chara, said Miraitowa and Someity may be popular with kids who associate their looks with Pokemon characters.
Miraitowa’s name is a mixture of the words “future” and “eternity”. Someity’s is a variation of the name of a popular type of cherry tree, a source of fascination and delight in Japan for centuries, and a play on the English phrase “so powerful”.
The mascots’ plaid pattern makes them look a bit like racing flags. Their designer, Ryo Taniguchi, told Kyodo News Agency in 2018 that the pattern was a nod to one that was popular during the Edo period in Japan, which lasted from the 17th to the 19th century.
“I think the characters, just like the logos, will become the face of the Games, the goalkeepers,” he told Kyodo.
Since the Games started last week, Miraitowa has been posting to Instagram from sports sites around Tokyo. Olympic medalists also receive miniature Miraitowas with their bouquets of flowers, and the two mascots have occasionally made a TV spot.
Yet they keep a relatively low profile on such a giant world stage. Professor Suter said on Tuesday that she had seen television coverage of the Games for days and had only seen the two mascots once – on a screen inside an Olympic venue.
In particular, Miraitowa and Someity weren’t very present at the opening ceremony on Friday, prompting one social media user, Suekichiii, to tweet what has become a very popular image showing plastic versions of the mascots. watching the opening ceremony from their home. Suekichiii later told Japanese newspaper Maidona that the painting was designed to generate sympathy for them.
Mr Carlier, of Mondo Mascots, said he initially felt that Miraitowa and Someity were too thin and too athletic to compete as a yuru-chara, given that Japanese mascots tend to be clumsy and ” bulky ”. He said he ended up liking them, but still didn’t consider them to be memorable.
Perhaps this is because their names ‘don’t exactly stick out of the tongue,’ he added, or because their checkered logo tends to blend in with the backdrop of Olympic venues designed in a matching style. .
Or maybe they just don’t have a chance to represent an Olympics taking place during a pandemic, with few spectators.
“I don’t think most people blame the characters,” Mr. Carlier said. “I feel a little sorry for them for their plight.”
It is not known how the performance of the mascots could affect the sales of official merchandise. A spokesperson for the Tokyo Olympics told Kyodo in 2018 that licenses for mascots and other “Olympic emblems” are expected to generate the equivalent of around $ 126 million in revenue.
Games spokesperson Tokuko Otsu said last week that the estimate had not changed. She added that data on the sales of official Tokyo Olympics merchandise, including “mascot-related products”, was not yet available.
Hiroyuki Nakamura, who was shopping at a Tokyo Olympics gift shop this weekend, said he and his 10-year-old daughter had a bad opinion of the official mascots and had no intention of buying goods related to mascots.
“For us parents, it’s hard to keep track of the names of all the different mascots that keep coming back,” he said. “But don’t these two have particularly difficult names to remember?”
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