Japan’s mascot craze has become fodder for comedians and late night TV hosts due to it’s bizarre charm. It’s definitely an “Only In Japan” aspect to their pop culture. Essentially, the concept of assigning mascots started with company advertising and that success prompted some areas of Japan to use them to promote tourism. Many regional mascots became famous and the tourism boomed in those areas, which lead every area in the country to create its own.
The mascot thing is called yuru-kyara and it’s actually gotten out of control. Recently, institutions you would not expect have created yuru-kyara for themselves, including the military and prisons. This has put the government into action and you can likely expect a mass character purge over the next couple of years. Quite a few tax dollars have been spent on the yuru-kyara, but in some ways it seems worth it. The creativity in their designs and how insanely weird they can be makes mundane things like a museum or a castle more appealing. The money made on merchandising must be huge, since you see so many people wearing character themed accessories and stores devoted to just one character exist. In short, they are awesome and a ton of fun.
Here are a few examples:
Meron Kuma (メロン熊)
Represents: Yubari, Japan