The Olympic Mascots Aren’t Successful 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 the Olympic merchandise sold during the Tokyo Games. But in a country where mascots play an important role in corporate branding and merchandising, they were mostly a muted presence at the event for which they were created.
The Japanese public isn’t really passed out either, say fans and experts who study the country’s mascot industry. The mascots’ social media profiles are humble, and a common complaint is that their names – Miraitowa and Someity – are difficult to remember.
Miraitowa is the Olympic mascot and Someity represents the Paralympics, which are scheduled to take place in Tokyo from August 24th to September 5th.
“In the whirlwind of all the Olympic controversy, I think the mascots were forgotten somewhere along the way,” said Yuki Fuka, 46, as she strolled through the Olympic Stadium with her daughter over the weekend. “The games have only just started and their existence is already a minor matter.”
Every Olympiad since 1972 has had an official mascot, but Miraitowa and Someity are competing in a crowded local field because Japan already has thousands of whimsical, clumsy creatures known as Yuru-Chara, created to promote their hometowns.
Japan’s best-known mascot is perhaps Kumamon, a cuddly bear from Kumamoto Prefecture who helped popularize the Yuru Chara phenomenon about a decade ago. The naughtiest is almost certainly Chiitan, an unapproved “baby fairy” mascot from Susaki town who was once banned from Twitter for his violent antics.
On Tuesday, the Olympic and Paralympic mascots had around 15,000 Instagram followers, a small fraction of the nearly 900,000 Chiitans. Miraitowa had only posted 70 times on the platform in two years.
Are Miraitowa and Someity loathed or not liked at all? Not at all. They were just a little, well, disappointing.
“In terms of design, they are not hated. They seem to be functional. They seem to be doing a good job, ”said Jillian Rae Suter, a professor of computer science at Shizuoka University, southwest of Tokyo, who studied Japanese mascots. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion for her.”
The mascots, which first appeared in public three summers ago, were selected from a shortlist by elementary school students from all over Japan and named by a jury of the Olympic Organizing Committee. Chris Carlier, a British writer and illustrator based in Tokyo who runs Mondo Mascots, a website and Twitter feed about Yuru-Chara, said Miraitova and Someity may have been popular with children who associated their looks with Pokémon characters .
Miraitowa’s name is a mixture of the words “future” and “eternity”. Someity’s is a variation on the name of a popular cherry tree that has been a source of fascination and joy in Japan for centuries, and a game of the English expression “so mighty”.
July 27, 2021, 7:58 p.m. ET
The checkered pattern of the mascots makes them look a bit like walking racing flags. Its designer, Ryo Taniguchi, told Kyodo News Agency in 2018 that the pattern was a nod to one that was popular during Japan’s Edo period, which lasted from the 17th to 19th centuries.
“I think the characters, like the logos, will become the face of the games, the gatekeepers,” he told Kyodo.
Since the games started last week, Miraitowa has been posting on Instagram from sports venues in Tokyo. Olympic medalists also receive miniature miraitowas with their bouquets of flowers, and the two mascots have occasionally shot a television commercial.
Yet they are relatively cautious on such a huge global stage. Professor Suter said Tuesday that she had watched TV broadcasts of the Games for days and only glanced once at the two mascots – on a screen in an Olympic venue.
Notably, Miraitowa and Someity weren’t a huge presence at the opening ceremony on Friday, prompting a social media user, Suekichiii, to tweet a widespread image showing plastic versions of the mascots watching the opening ceremony from their home. Suekichiii later told the Japanese news agency Maidona that the tableau was designed to arouse sympathy for her.
Mr. Carlier of Mondo Mascots said he initially felt that Miraitowa and Someity looked too thin and athletic to compete as Yuru-Chara, as Japanese mascots tend to be clumsy and “clumsy”. He said that at some point he will like her, but he still doesn’t think it’s memorable.
That may be because their names “aren’t exactly rolling on the tongue,” he added, or their checkered logo tends to blend in with the backdrops of Olympic venues that are styled appropriately.
Or maybe they are just unlucky to represent an Olympics that is taking place during a pandemic with few spectators.
“I don’t think most people blame the characters,” said Mr. Carlier. “I kind of feel sorry for you about your fate.”
It is unclear how the mascot’s performance could affect official merchandise sales. A spokesman for the Tokyo Olympics told Kyodo in 2018 that the licensing of mascots and other “Olympic emblems” is expected to generate sales of about US $ 126 million.
Tokuko Otsu, a spokeswoman for the Games, said last week the estimate has not changed. She added that data on sales of official Tokyo Olympics goods, including “mascot-related products”, were not yet available.
Hiroyuki Nakamura, who was shopping at a souvenir shop for the Tokyo Olympics over the weekend, said he and his 10-year-old daughter had just seen the official mascots gloomy and had no intention of buying any mascot-related merchandise.
“It’s hard for us parents to keep up with the names of all the different mascots that keep popping up,” he said. “But don’t these two have names that are particularly difficult to remember?”