My Partner, The Japanese Mascot – part 1

It was summer of 2015 and I was in Japan drunk off the eccentric business lifestyle and loving every minute of it. At that time, I had a consulting practice and a bar in Hokkaido, a spa salon in Fukuoka, and was in talks to set up another company in Tokyo, requiring me to be in all of those places, all of the time. My schedule rotated me throughout the 3 cities, spending 2 weeks in Sapporo, a week in Fukuoka, and a week in Tokyo – repeating every month. I looked forward to visiting Tokyo every time as I would always stay at the place of a close friend and business partner of mine, ‘T’. T ran a mascot company, which I would help out at for sport, and we would always find ourselves in adventure, doing all kinds of degenerate shit, enjoying life that was the entertainment business.

In the independent for-profit mascot industry, which exists solely in Japan, there is a clear hierarchy. At the bottom, there are hundreds if not thousands of characters, unknown to the mainstream public, each fixing to make a living out of their hobby and become the next big household ‘character’. Granted, that dream rarely comes into fruition, and if I were to guess I would say 95% of the wealth generated are from the top 5 characters, majority of that coming from one in particular.

At events, I saw everything from animals to household gadgets posing as mascots. Some were creative and well made, others were scary as shit and so poorly put together it was insulting to the other mascots. Needless to say, there were no standards and to this day it is still a mystery to me why and how this industry continues to exist.

T was fortunate enough to be a owner of one of the more successful ones – at one point, within the top 5 characters in the country in terms of popularity. It was well known in the Kansai area, and I vividly remember the cheers from fans we would get cruising around in his mascot car (pretty much a big van with decals of his mascot pasted outside).

Backstage at events, I would help our ‘actor’ get set up into his mascot then proceed to guard him from the onslaught of fans when the doors opened and the event started. I must say he did a fine job considering most summer events required him to stand for hours at a time in the scorching heat locked up in this character covered in sweat, while maintaining the capricious personality the character was known for.

It was fun while it lasted, but as popularity slowed down so did sales. Being a close friend of T, he shared with me his goals for the company, and long story short, it wasn’t something he was overly optimistic about in the long term. Over the summer months, we devised a plan to start a new business project together using the character to market the new project while it still had fans. His sister, a well established choreographer for numerous famous Japanese artists, was also interested in our project and eventually became heavily involved. Before long, preparations for incorporating a new company had started (which is a long ass process in Japan), but would ultimately not be completed.

In the end, the deal fell apart and all I got out of it was an important lesson learned about friendships and severed relationships that still hasn’t been mended to this day. I have spent many hours reflecting on the events that unfolded thereafter and why they turned out the way they did. To say we communicated our goals poorly would would be an understatement, and I would learn the importance of understanding the position of all parties in a deal the hard way. More later.