(CNN) — When the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics launched pictures of the Video games’ mascots, few folks blinked — in any case, mascots are normal fare for the Olympics.

However in Japan, mascot tradition goes far deeper than the occasional world occasion. All through the nation, there are mascots for all the pieces from native sports activities groups to home-goods firms and public parks.

The Twitter account Mondo Mascots has turn out to be an enormous hit for celebrating these mascots, with near 51,000 followers obsessing over probably the most uncommon ones — from bears with completely purple cheeks to creatures with naan bread or udon bowls on their heads.

Whereas mascots could seem enjoyable and wacky, Dr. Joshua Paul Dale, a professor at Tokyo Gakugei College, tells CNN Travel that mascot tradition is an effective way to know Japanese society as a complete, particularly the idea of “kawaii,” or cuteness.

“Cuteness turned prevalent in Japan within the 1980s, and one purpose it did is that there was a scholar protest motion right here which completely failed,” explains Dale, who works within the rising area of “cute research” and is the co-editor of the ebook The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness. “

“The scholars turned away from politics, a development which continues to today … The scholars turned inward, and that is when the kawaii growth began, primarily amongst younger girls.”

Many Japanese mascots started as symbols for small cities or lesser-visited areas of the nation as a technique to encourage tourism.

Manufacturers additionally noticed the facility in placing cute characters on extraordinary gadgets, akin to college and workplace provides, to make them stand out — one thing that the corporate Sanrio made right into a worldwide model with its character Hey Kitty.

Funassyi is the unofficial mascot of the city of Funabashi.

Funassyi is the unofficial mascot of the town of Funabashi.

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Photos

Chris Carlier is a British freelance illustrator who has been residing in Tokyo for greater than a decade. He began Mondo Mascots purely as a result of he was within the tradition and loved taking pictures of mascots he noticed.

“Just a few years in the past I noticed the costumed mascots strolling round and began taking photos and searching them up,” he tells CNN Journey. “It is like birdwatching or amassing stamps.”

He, too, cautions in opposition to taking mascots at face worth and seeing them solely as cutesy and harmless. “Unhealthy issues have mascots, too. Nuclear crops, massive firms with dangerous practices. Cults have mascots.”

Take a step inside Honmura-an Ogikubo to search out out what units it other than different Tokyo soba eating places. Video by Black Buddha

Not solely is mascot tradition large, it even has its personal occasion — the Yuru-chara Grand Prix.

This annual occasion is sort of a magnificence pageant crossed with a fan con. Over a number of days, followers can come and get their pictures taken with their favourite mascots in addition to find out about new ones, and a winner is topped.

The 2018 winner at Yuru-chara was Kaparu, a inexperienced kappa (water goblin) who represents Shiki, a metropolis in Saitama Prefecture northwest of Tokyo.

As mascots turn out to be increasingly more fashionable, characters should work more durable to face out — now, a few of them could have a particular trademark dance transfer or gesture.

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Whether or not it is mascots, manga or maid cafes, vacationers come from everywhere in the world to expertise what Japan does greatest. Dale says that the spirit of “kawaii” is one factor vacationers usually wish to study extra about and expertise for themselves.

“Whenever you stroll round in Japan, you aren’t surrounded by cuteness at each flip — nevertheless it does present up in sudden locations.”