Japan has a well-earned reputation as Land of the Cute, and nothing underlines this more than the bewildering range of cute and cuddly mascots that can be encountered here. While I don't have the hard stats to back this up, I'm confident in claiming that Japan must have the highest mascot-per-capita ratio in the world (a source of national pride if ever there was one!).
Apart from the run-of-the-mill sports team mascots, perhaps the most weird assortment of these waddling, grinning creatures can be found acting as promotional characters for towns, cities and regions across the country. These so-called Yuru-chara are a highly competitive bunch, constantly vying for public attention, and every year they get to test their popularity in the Yuru-chara Grand Prix. Though I do kind of wish this was a motor race, Mario Kart style, it's actually an online voting competition. The results of 2011's edition were just announced last month, and the proud winner was Kumamon, a rosy-cheeked black bear from Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu ("kuma" means bear in Japanese, you see).
Now, while it can't be denied that Kumamon is pretty damn cute, and I'm sure he's got an adorable personality, I've got to admit I was fairly underwhelmed by his selection. Surely, I thought, there must be plenty of better mascots out there, more worthy of fame and praise. So, after taking a look at the hundreds (!!) of other entrants to this year's competition, I have come up with my definitive top 5 list, presented in reverse order below. Enjoy!
Now, THIS is my kind of bear! Just look at those fearsome teeth! And he's got a melon for a head! What's not to love? Meron-kuma hails from the city of Yubari in Hokkaido. He freely admits on his profile that he is not particularly cute, and this clearly cost him in the voting as he finished way down in 146th place. A travesty, in my opinion...
3. Take-no-michi Yuzuru
2. Shoubu-pan Oni-ichi (Panky, for short)