The mascot school
I recently re-discovered a video that I had watched a number of months ago about mascot culture in Japan. It focusses on a wonderful lady called Choko Oohira and her mascot school in Tokyo, where she teaches people from all walks of life on the fundamentals of performing as a mascot, and the rules you need to follow in order to maintain the true identity of the character you are portraying.
The energy and enthusiasm of the students and the passion Choko Oohira has for her job really is inspiring and a tad contagious… This short video really got me thinking; what does it ACTUALLY take to become a mascot? I mean anyone can physically put on a furry costume and ‘horse’ around, but what about those who consider it a profession, or those who are interested in becoming a successful mascot in the future? What do they do to stand out from the crowd (apart from wear a giant furry costume) and make it a performance to remember? It’s a lot more involved than you think…
Japanese mascot culture
As the capital of the Costume Character, we’ll start our journey in Japan (also because it fits in nicely with the introduction to this blog) where mascots play an important part in advertising the local culture… and practically anything else that could possibly have a mascot…ever.
There are various styles of mascot character in Japan and one of the most popular and more recent style of costume is Yuru-Chara. Yuru-Chara mascots are created to promote local areas of interest, cities, regions, businesses or events. They are characterised by a combination of cuteness, unrefined designs and accessories or features depicting local produce, culture or landmarks. Yuru-Chara mascots are big business in Japan (a $16billion industry and growing) and many of them have their own merchandise, anime series and are known globally like the ever popular Kumamon, who was created by the Kumamoto Prefecture (region/district) to draw tourists to the area. Yuru-Chara costumes have their own specific rules to adhere by. These are:
- It must convey a strong message of love for one’s hometown or local region
- The character’s movements or behaviour should be unique and unstable or awkward
- The character should be unsophisticated or laid-back (yurui) and lovable
These 3 simple rules define how these characters are made and how they perform in public. In order to become a Yuru-Chara character mascot, you must be able to abide by these rules and perform within the boundaries of these statements. It takes a lot of determination and creativity to be energetically awkward, lovable and unique in your movements but that can be the make or break of a good performance. Although specific to Yuru-Chara, these rules start to form the basis of what it takes to be a good mascot; entertaining, individual and passionate for the cause.
Mascots across the globe
So let’s leave Japan and talk more generally about mascots across the globe. Playing the part of a Costumed Character is hard, hot and tiring work but ultimately very rewarding if it is done right. Being the centre of attention, all eyes are on your character and it is important to protect the identity of the brand you are portraying. A code of conduct should keep you in line with the core values and beliefs of a brand character, but even without one, a little bit of common sense will keep your character within the ethical boundaries and context of an event. For example, a mascot could act differently at a corporate meet and greet to how it would act a children’s party (although we’re all just big kids really!) and should tailor its performance to suit the audience. Being astute, having the ability to assess a situation and adapt are important factors of a successful performance.
Interaction with an audience also demands a lot of respect from the performer, knowing when to push and when to back off can be a little tricky to read in a big furry costume with limited visibility but this consideration should always be in the back of the performers mind. Playing a joke is only funny when everyone is laughing. Some people can feel self-conscious when being ‘laughed at’ and as a mascot, you need to be aware of this so you can quickly deflect a situation or focus on something/someone else to avoid embarrassing or hurting anyone’s feelings.
A lot of mascot wearers are volunteers, helping out a local cause by turning up and entertaining the crowd. It’s a well-known fact that having a costumed character turn up to a charity event actually increases the amount of donations given by the public but it takes a very special type of person to give up a day of their time to stand in a hot and heavy costume for a good cause. This leads me to my final trait of what it actually takes to be a mascot and in my opinion it’s up there at the top of the list. That important trait is that of a big heart. I personally have nothing but respect for the people that volunteer time to help out local causes with nothing but the satisfaction that they are doing their bit for the cause and with no other payment than a thank you for a job well done….
What it REALLY takes
So, just to re-cap, here’s what I believe it takes to be a good mascot:
- Be entertaining
- Be individual
- Be passionate
- Be astute
- Be adaptable
- Be respectful
- Have a big heart.
Now a lot of you will notice that I have purposefully avoided talking about the usual physical traits that you see in every other article about how to ‘wear’ a mascot and how to ‘act like a mascot’ etc etc. I can send you a checklist if that’s what you want to know and if you follow it, you’ll learn the basic moves and become a competent mascot wearer. This article isn’t about that. It’s about the type of person and the mental attitude that it takes to become a successful costumed character and ultimately create successful character performances. I believe that the physical side of wearing a costume character can be learnt by just about anyone. Exaggerating your movements, keeping quiet, warming up are all things that can be taught at places like Choko Oohira’s mascot school in Tokyo, but what sets People like Choko Oohira and many other mascot wearers apart is the infectious mental attitude, passion and enthusiasm that spills out of their performance.
A big thank you!
We at Costumes with Character would like to say thanks to you the performer, the beating heart of our industry and the reason why mascots are more popular today than they have ever been. It’s because of your hard work that we’re still in business 30 years on….
If you feel inclined, please have a look through our gallery of costumes and remember that behind every amazing mascot is an equally amazing wearer.
You can visit our costume gallery here.
Video credit to Great Big Story.