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Should Foreign Brands Use Brand Characters When Localizing to Japan? 

Should Foreign Brands Use Brand Characters When Localizing to Japan? 

If you’re considering entering the Japanese market, you’ve probably heard about the adorable Yuru-kyara, Japan’s beloved mascot character. 

“Yuru-kyara” is a type of mascot character widely employed throughout Japan to act as honorary PR representatives for a diverse range of products and services.

These characters represent towns, regions, organizations, and sometimes, just concepts. 

One of the most famous Yuru-kyara, Kumamon, generated 1.2 billion USD in just two years from his first introduction. Success stories like this showcase the significant and powerful role character marking plays in Japan. As a foreign brand looking to localize in Japan, should you consider using brand characters? 

Let’s explore the cultural aspects and lessons from both successful and failed case studies.

The Yuru-Kyara Boom: How Did It All Start? 

Although the concept of “Kawaii” (translation: endearing and cute) refers back to the Edo Era, according to some sources, Japan’s Yuru-kyara phenomenon started in 2007 with Hikonyan. 

It’s a cat in a samurai helmet created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle in Shiga prefecture. 

Hikonyan became a cultural phenomenon and attracted visitors to the city. 
The mascot’s popularity contributed to increased tourism and economic activity in the region.

Building Brand Loyalty 

A prime example of mascot success is Funassyi, a pear fairy character created by a citizen of Funabashi City. 

Funassyi’s energetic personality, vibrant appearance, and humorous antics quickly gained popularity. This mascot fostered a deep emotional connection with fans, resulting in strong brand loyalty and support.

Using mascot characters aligns with Japan’s cultural values, especially its love for all things cute (kawaii). 

Although not a regional yuru-kyara, Gudetama, Sanrio’s lazy egg character, has a massive following in Japan and worldwide. Its relatable, laid-back attitude has resonated with fans of all ages.

Japanese audiences find these characters endearing and easy to connect with, which can significantly boost brand recognition and image. When done right, mascots become integral components of successful marketing campaigns.

Failed Case Studies 

Not all mascot stories in Japan lead to success. 

The 2002 FIFA World Cup mascots, Ato, Kaz, and Nik, also known as the “Spheriks,” encountered a mixed reception. 

Their unconventional and culturally disconnected design received lukewarm responses from the public and soccer enthusiasts during the tournament. 

Nishiko-kun, with a design combining a traffic light and a temple gate, did not resonate with the community and struggled to gain recognition. 

These cases underscore the critical importance of crafting visually appealing, culturally relevant, and well-received mascot characters to ensure their effectiveness in mascot marketing campaigns in Japan.

Localization and Respect 

When considering using mascots in Japan, it’s essential to localize and respect cultural nuances. The appeal of mascots in Japan is deeply rooted in the country’s culture and values, making it crucial to align your mascot with these aspects.

Utilizing cute characters, like the Aflac Duck, can be an effective strategy for foreign brands looking to appeal to Japanese consumers. 

Aflac’s success in Japan, where 9 out of 10 people recognize the iconic duck, demonstrates the power of such mascots. While there’s no guarantee of success, creating original characters tailored to the Japanese audience is a unique approach worth considering for brands aiming to resonate with Japanese consumers.


Using mascot characters when localizing to Japan can be a highly effective strategy if executed correctly. 

Understanding and respecting the cultural significance of mascots, as well as learning from both successful and failed case studies, can help foreign brands connect with Japanese consumers on a deeper level. 

How Can We Help?

If your brand is aiming to establish a presence in the Japanese market, COVUE is here to assist you. We provide a range of services, including localization, marketing, and import compliance, to support your brand’s growth and success in Japan.

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