Thursday, July 3, 2014

Japan's New Superstar, Talking Pear

There is no doubt that this creature is small as he appears under the shadow of the Tokyo Skytree, Japan's tallest structure at 634 meters. What is mind-boggling is how he was able to capture Japan's fancy as he twists and screams "I'm so pretty!" onstage.

"Funassyi" is a superstar in a pear costume and his popularity is growing in the small Asian nation. If anybody questions his rising star status, they can raise it to the crowd of thousands who goes wild, screaming his name and snapping as many photos as they can.

In the world of cute, cuddly, and sometimes bizarre mascots, these "yuru-kyara" (meaning gentle or laid back characters), have been a ubiquitous presence in advertising in Japan for decades, but "Funassyi" is a hyperactive talking and dancing pear who has distinguished himself from the pack and made itself into a household name.

Coming from the northwestern city of Funabashi, known for its delicious pears, "Funassyi's" origins lie in his YouTube channel created two years ago. The fact that he spoke, jumped, and had a distinctively flamboyant personality made him different from typically quiet and cuddly Japanese mascots.

Since then, his popularity has exploded, boasting an impressive resume that includes television appearances, commercials and ad campaigns, and even his own novelty single released under Universal Music Japan.

But what makes "Funassyi" so different from his countless cohorts of colorful characters?

At first glance, one may think his bright yellow color, sparkling eyes and perpetual smile is nothing new for a country with an army of crazy characters like "Sanomaru," a white puppy-like mascot from Sano city with an upside down ramen bowl on his head, or "Okazaemon," a creepy ghost-like character from Okazaki prefecture.

However, the moment "Funassyi" starts dancing widely and emphatically hyping up the crowd in his high-pitched voice, ending sentences with his catchphrase "nashiiii!" (Pear!) -- this mascot becomes an unforgettable presence.

While even the most popular mascots in Japan like "Kumamon," a rosy-cheeked black bear from Kumamoto prefecture, are silent and slow moving, "Funassyi's" unique costume design allows for rapid, energetic movements that he uses to jump up and down to excite and rile up his audience. In addition, his ability to speak makes him an interactive and electrifying crowd favorite.

"Funassyi" and the iconic Japanese teddy bear "Kumamon" are the superstars of the 2014 Yuru-Kyara festival, which features mascots from all over Japan. People line up to meet and pose for pictures with their favorite mascots and more importantly, buy their exclusive merchandise that includes everything from handbags, towels, T-shirts, and much more.

According to the Character Data Bank, a research firm that studies the character business, mascot-driven character sales amounted to nearly US$ 16 billion in Japan in 2012.

Other prefectures are hoping to replicate "Funassyi's" and "Kumamon's" enormous commercial success by releasing their own yuru-kyara's, in an effort to attract regional tourism and land national ad campaigns of their own.

"Kumamon's" brand is already expanding overseas, with themed products soon to be appearing in 7-Eleven convenience stores in Taiwan. Although Funassyi's stardom currently remains limited to Japan, it's not unbelievable to imagine his following expanding worldwide, placing him among the ranks of other Japanese icons that became multi-billion-dollar icons.

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