Idle Idol: The Japanese Mascot

10 years ago by in Travel

I’ve written here about Pipo-kun and Kyuta and finally, I can now announce the release of my book which I’ve worked on for more than a year with my brother. Idle Idol: The Japanese Mascot documents our obsession with 3D figures found all over Japan. It’s full of photos and information on Japan’s wonderful characters. Discover antique advertising characters, modern mass-produced mascots and unique one-off designs.

Divided into thematic chapters: Hero, Legend, Spokesperson, TV Star, Entertainer, Chef, Doctor, Meeter and Greeter. The photographs are accompanied by the stories that have resulted in these creations, ranging from Japanese myths to corporate identities and sporting fan fanaticism.

To see more check out, or look inside the book and order on Amazon.

If you’d like to win a copy enter the competition or read more at the bottom of the post.

Idle Idol

The book is full of mascots used to lure customers into shops, hold menus outside restaurants, promote products and be a friendly face to represent a company. I’d been collecting photos of these figures for a number of years in England where I come from and when I went travelling. After meeting Remo Camerota author of the awesome Drainspotting and Graffiti Japan I was encouraged and inspired to make my own book.

What I love about them apart from the obvious aesthetic reasons is that you can learn a lot about Japanese history, legends and popular culture. Characters like Momo-chan (third row down far right) led me to find out about the legend of Momo-taro. The Kappa (bottom row third across) found just off Kappabashi road, helped me learn about the legendary creature and his cucumber and kid eating habits. All the characters have interesting stories behind them which make them even more fascinating. Below I’ll show some of my favourite mascots from Tokyo (except maybe a few from Kansai area which are too good not to show).

Sato-chan and Satoko-chan

Two of the most common mascots in Japan are this pair. Sato-chan (left) and his sister Satoko-chan (right) are mascots for Sato Pharmaceuticals. They are modelled on an Indian elephant as they apparently live long which is what their drugs presumably do for its customers. Sato-chan first started appearing outside pharmacies in 1961 so he’s an early example of this form of advertising. To see more photos and find out where a museum dedicated to the pair is, click here.


Satoko-chan can be seen in a variety of different costumes which change depending on the season and preference of the pharmacy owner. She can be found dressed in a Santa suit at Christmas time, a Hawaiian shirt during the summer and a kimono at festival time. Other characters like Peko-chan and Colonel Sanders are often dressed up too.


Another big name in the mascot world is Kero-chan, he often hangs out with the two elephants. Its not uncommon to see older versions like this one from Ikebukuro patched up with tape and glue.


This collection of pigs are all from restaurants in Tokyo. When you think about it, it’s kind of weird having a lick lipping pig promoting some restaurant that serves pork but it obviously works. The top left one is from Shinjuku and you can see a pigs head on top of a Tanuki. Tanuki are found outside so many shops and lots of soba restaurants as there’s a type of soba noodles called Tanuki soba. The top right one references another character too. The pig has its hoof raised much like Maneki Neko the good fortune cat.

Old men

I’ve found so many mascots which are modelled on the company president. He’s more often than not quite large and not too attractive. On the left we see ‘Sawayaka oyaji’ which means fresh old man, he’s the mascot for ‘Japan’ a discount store. On the right is Hirayama the big boss of a real estate company.There is a poll embedded in this article.

Daruma Daijin

Another boss mascot; this is the owner of a chain of Kushikatsu restaurants in Osaka called Daruma. For those that don’t know its mostly meat on sticks coated in bread and egg. In the restaurants you usually sit at a counter and have a container of communal sauce. This mascot is pretty sophisticated and has bulging eyes and a chin which extends outwards. He also has a speaker on his chest which shouts “いらっしゃい” (WELCOME) and “そーすの にどづけ きんしやでー” (DON’T DOUBLE DIP).


Masumasu-kun is the box shaped mascot for an investment trust fund found at my local post office in Oimachi. Masumasu means “more and more” and the kanji for masu means a wooden measuring box. The mascot represents making more and more money and keeping it safe in a box. Very cute and simple.


The world of 3D mascots isn’t all Kawaii though. There lies a deep underworld of crime and money. Peko-chan the character for the confectioner Fujiya is a popular target for thieves. One such thief was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for snatching 15 Peko-Chan statues, valued at about ¥1.1 million. And In September 2009 even a Yakuza mobster was arrested for stealing a Peko-chan figure. There is a poll embedded in this article.


This dirty blond haired dude standing half naked with a worryingly excited look on his face was found above an electronics shop in Kichijoji. Awesome!

To find out more about the book visit and If you have any photos of 3D mascots from anywhere in the world I’d love to see them. Join the flickr group to see more and add your own.


To celebrate the launch we’re offering the chance to win a copy of the book. All you have to do is take a photo of yourself or a friend with your favourite mascot. The entries will be judged by ourselves based on the awesomeness and bizarreness of the mascot and how cool the pose of the individual is.

The Prizes:
1st Prize: A signed copy of the book with a goody bag including Kero-chan and Koro-chan finger puppets, a Satoko-chan mobile phone strap and two badge sets.
2nd prize:A signed copy of the book with a badge set.
3rd prize:A badge set of your choice.

How to Enter:
There are four different ways to enter. Please also let us know where the photo was taken when submitting your entry.
1. Email your photos to
2. Join the Idle Idol facebook group and add your photo.
3. Upload your photo to flickr, post it to the Idle Idol flickr group and tag it with "idleidol".
4. Follow whatwhatjohn or whatwhated on twitter and include a link to your photo along with #idleidol in your tweet.

We look forward to seeing your photos. Winners will be announced on the 22nd July and the winning entries will be displayed on the website.