If a teal, pear-shaped bear or a 6-foot-tall bunny rabbit with a rectangular head appeared on the streets in most countries of the world, staggering half-blindly among the citizenry with outstretched arms, it would be cause for alarm. It might even be interpreted as a sign of the end times. But in Japan, such an occasion would be a cause for delight and celebration. In that country, mascots are not limited to sporting events, pizza restaurants, theme parks, and creepy TV commercials the way they are in America. No, the fuzzy, oversize characters are an integral part of Japanese life. The country has possibly the highest mascot-to-citizen ratio of any place on Earth. Malls have mascots. The police have mascots. Even prisons have mascots.
In its ongoing mission to shed light on every aspect of the human condition, no matter how odd or arcane, the informative web series Great Big Story has devoted an entire, delightful episode to Japanese mascots and the woman who makes a living training them. The Stanislavsky of the mascot world is Choko Oohira, and she has been running an institution called The Mascot Actor’s School for the last 11 years. Great Big Story dares to breach its walls.
Inside the school, Oohira puts her costume-wearing students through their paces, teaching them to wave, jump, and frolic as a proper mascot should. And the schoolmarm has her ground rules. Mascots should never talk, she insists, nor should they ever be seen changing into or out of their costumes in public. Likewise, aspiring mascots should keep their own, human skin out of view at all times. And, most importantly, “Don’t be rude.” That seems like a given, unless someone has been hired to be a mascot for rudeness. In all, Oohira’s mascot school seems like a lot of fun, though it can be disturbing to see a whole cabinet of unused mascot heads. It looks like some kind of bizarre trophy case belonging to a rich eccentric who hunts mascots for sport.