A half-airplane, half-eel creation has been named Japan’s favourite mascot following a vote in which hundreds of thousands of people took part.
The city of Narita’s Unari-kun polled a staggering 805,328 votes in the annual Yuru Chara Grand Prix to choose the country’s top regional mascot, the Mainichi Daily News reports, 40,000 votes ahead of its nearest rival.
Unari-kun represents two things for which the city of Narita is famous – its airport, which serves as Tokyo’s main international terminal, and unagi freshwater eels, a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine.
The honour proved too much for Narita’s deputy mayor Kenji Sekine, who was present at the event. “I’m close to tears,” he said as he thanked the voting public.
In second place at the Grand Prix – a two-day event in the central city of Kuwana, attended by over 23,000 people – was the rabbit-eared Chiryuppi of Chiryu, followed by Try-kun, a rugby player from Higashi-Osaka, a hotbed of Japanese rugby union.
Risonya the cat won the best corporate mascot trophy, emerging victorious in its category from the 1,158 company and regional characters that entered this year’s competition, Asahi Shimbun newspaper said.
Chris Carlier, who curates the Mondo Mascots account on Twitter, told the BBC that mascots have sprung into prominence in Japan in the last decade because they “give an identity and a friendly face to otherwise anonymous or unremarkable towns or companies”.
Popular local mascots like Kumamon have made a lot of money for their hometowns, “so other towns create mascots hoping for the same success,” he said.
As for Unari-kun’s triumph, Chris Carlier puts that down to the fact that “so many people spot him when they pass through Narita Airport, and they associate him with happy holidays.
“He’s been around for a long time. Unari-kun’s been entering this contest since 2011, so he’s paid his dues. You’ve got to admire his perseverance.”
Reporting by Alistair Coleman
Next story: New Zealand investigation into ‘impossible’ exam
Use #NewsfromElsewhere to stay up-to-date with our reports via Twitter.