These wacky, life-sized characters all pop up regularly throughout the country, spreading joy, laughter and, occasionally, just pure confusion.
Their quirks and often comprehensive backstories became a source of fascination for photographer Chris Carlier, who began to collate images of his favourites a few years ago. He quickly turned the project into a blog and established a corresponding Twitter account, @MondoMascots, which now boasts more than 30,000 followers.
It’s not hard to see the account’s viral appeal; the weird and wonderful come together in spectacular form, providing both light relief and a fascinating insight into Japanese culture. Alongside pictures and stories on mascots, there are also a handful of clips which are sure to brighten even the dampest of days; a pinned tweet depicting Coroton, an impossibly cute pig mascot dancing outside a shrine, is exemplary.
To find out more about the account, its inspirations and its founder, we reached out to Carlier, who has lived in Tokyo for the last sixteen years, to talk mascot conventions, enema marketing and his favourite accident-prone otter with a tortoise for a hat.
Tell us, when did your fascination with Japanese mascots truly take hold?
It crept up on me slowly. Three or four years ago I noticed that they were everywhere, and I started photographing them. It quickly became a hobby; I started seeking them out. Bird-watching and butterfly-collecting aren't really possible in Tokyo, so I suppose this is the next best thing!
Lots of the mascots have political or environmental messages. Why do you think they're seen as a good medium?
They definitely seem to be more successful at getting people's attention than leaflets or party political broadcasts!
Do you still regularly attend mascot summits and events? If so, how would you describe the atmosphere?
Yes, I actually go to them fairly often. They usually involve a few dozen mascots waddling around in a field or a car park, posing for pictures with people and selling merchandise. Each of them gets up on stage at some point too, either to dance to their own theme song or to perform a party piece. Wandering around and photographing the mascots is a bit like a real-life version of Pokemon! Go!
You've gained 30,000 Twitter followers in just under 18 months. Do these followers often contact you directly?
It's all been very gratifying.
I do get a lot of people thanking me for breaking up the bad news and the politics in their Twitter feed, and I also get quite a few requests to identify mascots people have spotted in Japan. I can usually name them, but not always.
Are there any mascots which stand out to you as particularly bizarre?
Plenty! One that springs to mind is Gosshi, the mascot of Goryokaku park in Hakodate, who is a carp possessed by the soul of an ancient dead soldier and inexplicably wears high heels and stockings.
Recently I had an encounter with Kan-chan, who is a mascot for a company that makes enemas and fig-based laxatives. It's a giant pink enema with a penguin's face.
Lots of the mascots are based on elaborate puns that don't translate, and seem utterly surreal if you don't know the explanation.
Do you have a personal favourite mascot?
It changes all the time, but recently I've become a big fan of Chiitan, an accident-prone female otter with a tortoise for a hat.
She posts a lot of videos of her stunts and pratfalls online and has become popular very quickly.
The recent viral video of the mascot waiting at baggage claim made hundreds of thousands of people chuckle; are there any mascot clips or videos you turn to when you're feeling low?
There a few I filmed myself that I enjoy. One features an exodus of mascots at the end of an event, all scurrying away to avoid an impending storm.