As we drove through Okinawa, I noticed cute little caricatures everywhere. These chibi little guys were on the backs of cars and on buildings. I even saw a telephone one on a warning sign on a power pole: With their bright colors and simple cartoonish lines, they got my attention. But why? Why were they there?
Chibi is a Japanese slang word, which basically means cute and stubby. It comes from the verb chibiru. Anime and Manga have brought the term and its use to westerners. Especially Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball and Gundam. Any character can be transformed into this style, by simplifying the lines and enlarging its head. And if there is any symbolic or identifying characteristic: that should be included in the simple version.
Caricatures help bring attention to many Japanese businesses and messages that are worth promoting. Mascots in Japan usually take a simplified, bright, child-friendly style. And they go the extra mile by creating costumes that a person can wear to bring attention to the message or business. Mascots (the cuter, simpler and brighter, the better) are a way that organizations show that they are, well, organized. And they can be an effective marketing tool. Here’s an entertaining article on the popularity of mascots in Japan.
SELF-FULFILLING CHIBI MASCOTS
As we saw the sights in Okinawa, the cute, bright characters got my attention. I wished I could read the words by them, so I could know what they were promoting and why they were there. So that is the answer of why I saw these guys everywhere. They existed to bring attention to themselves and the message of the organization that created them. Cartoonish characters and mascots are a bright, colorful, fun way to promote and get a message across.