Go-Go-Gaijin: Baseball Mascot Misnomers

Japan loves mascots. I mean, anything and everything gets a smiling, fluffy, easily recognizable official symbol for bumper stickers and keychains and whatever other marketable venues there may be. The police have a mascot, the newspapers have a mascot, the national broadcasting association even has a mascot.

Super deer mascot.

Chidejika: now with more penis.

But with the mascot demand as high as it is (for anime fans, you’ll know how the Vocaloid software mascot Miku has gone from package art to super idol in record time), you would think that Japanese designers would put a bit more thought into their mascots. You would be surprised (or maybe not, if you’ve seen the Yomiuri Shimbun mascot Doredore by Hayao Miyazaki)…

Baseball mascots are important. They make a statement about the team, they keep the fans entertained, they wind up on merchandise, and in every way have to personify the image as well as fighting spirit of the team they represent. Japan has two major leagues and only has twelve teams all together, but come baseball season there are about thirty or so mascots running around and confusing me. I would like to share my confusion now and list the twelve teams and their unbelievably ridiculous mascots. Some are hits, some are misses, and some really come out of left field.

Yomiuri Giants

Considering Yomiuri is the same corporation who chose a bug-eyed caterpillar to be their newspaper mascot (okay, it’s a bookworm I guess, I get it, but it looks like a multi-legged armadillo), I didn’t have high expectations for the Giants. They can’t go with a giant man-child thing like the New York Giants, that would be super-stealy of them (and they’ve already borrowed enough from the New York Giants). So what about a giant animal? Yeah! Like an elephant or perhaps a King Kong-sized gorilla. Or I know, a rabbit!

Yes, Jabbit, a cuddly orange bunny with weird melting-eye syndrome. The Giants are the most beloved team in Tokyo, so Jabbit is a well-respected mascot where I live, and when I question fans why the kyojin mascot is an usagi I am usually asked in response, “Why not?” As far as I know, Jabbit is not three-stories tall, but fans feel he represents the team just fine. He really should get that eye looked at, though.

Hanshin Tigers

The greatest rival to the Yomiuri Giants, the Osakan team the Hanshin Tigers… are represented by a tiger. Okay, that makes sense. One point goes to Japan.

Nippon Ham Fighters

You might be noticing a trend that Japanese team names aren’t named after cities or prefectures in Japan, they are almost all named after the corporations that own them. This is rather unfortunate for the Nippon Ham Fighters, because they sound like they pick fights with processed pork products. I’m not sure how I could support a team with “ham” in the title—and yes, ham means the same thing in Japanese as it does in America, this isn’t a simple translation misfortune. The company sells ham.

The mascot’s an easy, if not controversial, choice, right? A pig, a boar, a warthog… they have wild boar in Japan, so that would be a perfect mascot. “Come eat my brothers and sisters at the ol’ ballgame! Go Ham Fighters!” Well, the first mascot the team went with after changing their name to Fighters was not a pig, but Fighty, a pink pterodactyl. That makes sense, right? It almost does when you see Fighty—Fighty kind of looks like ham.

Alas, Fighty was replaced a few years ago with a new mascot. A bear named Brisky, who is sometimes accompanied by his little brother Cubby. Brisky has a Mohawk and is known for his rude ‘tude, so I guess he’s a step up from an extinct lizard bird, but why a bear? The team is located in Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan that is known for having a lot of bears, so I guess it makes more sense than poor Fighty as a regional representative. But did a pig mascot not even come into mind? According to this article, no—the other options were a crab and a narwhal.

Chunichi Dragons

Nagoya did well with the name. Dragons! That is so classic and awesome sounding. But when it comes to their mascots, they failed. They failed so hard at designing mascots it makes my head hurt. They have three main mascots, and two are actually dragons. Those dragons are Shaolon and Paolon, a boy and girl dragon respectively. But more than dragons, they kind of look like misshapen Gumby characters.

So what about that third mascot? Maybe the two Gumby dragons are like the sidekicks to a much larger, much cooler dragon character? Well, they are sidekicks, but not to any dragon.

Why yes, that is a giant blue koala. One of the more popular mascots in the league, Doala is the “action” mascot and does all the summersaults and cartwheels that the Chinese goo babies aren’t built for. Why on earth did a Japanese team with a more or less Eastern theme choose an Australian native as its main mascot? Well, Nagoya, the hometown for the Dragons, was the first city in Japan to import a koala to their zoo, and the koala was a huge hit with local zoogoers. Ten years later in 1994, some genius decided the koala would be the perfect Dragon mascot. A mostly docile vegetarian marsupial was designated to a team of legendary flying serpents of the gods who can spit fire and reign terror upon mortal man. Sure, okay.

Yakult Swallows

Tokyo’s other team, the Yakult Swallows, have a swallow as their mascot. Okay, that makes sense. What’s interesting is that Yakult is a company known for making yogurt, so perhaps this is all one big subliminal message to consumers. “Yakult Swallows… Yogurt Swallows… Swallow Yogurt… EAT YOGURT!”

SoftBank Hawks

The Fukuoka team was recently bought by cell phone mega company SoftBank but left the team name Hawks intact. While the team is sensibly represented by a hawk, there is a bafflingly large number of these hawk mascots. For some reason, the team has eight hawk mascots! Harry Hawk is the main mascot, but he has a large family—in fact, the Hawks have more mascots than any other team in the league. You’d think Jabbit would be the one with the big family, but I guess raptors gotta get freaky sometimes, too. For the exceptionally bored, here’s a link to Harry’s family tree that includes pictures and birthdays of all the little hawklings. For people with nothing better to do with their time than research the bloodline of an animal mascot, you might be interested in this. Finally, a bird on Twitter.

Rakuten Golden Eagles

Sendai’s team the Golden Eagles is a relatively new team, forming after the region’s former team, Blue Wave, merged with the Orix Buffaloes because the Japanese Pacific League realized “wow, we’re kind of a sucky league with only five teams”. I actually had to look up their mascot because I assumed their official mascot was the manager Katsuya Nomura, who has had an arguably bad career as a manager but is so fun to watch my baseball-loving boyfriend will stick around after the game just to hear his interviews. He’s been in the league in some form or another, first as a player and now as a manager, longer than any other person, so people just seem to let him do whatever he wants. He’s candid and funny and even I watch for him on TV. Apparently the mascot is not Nomura, it’s Crutch (or is it Clutch?) the eagle.

Orix Buffaloes

I mentioned them in the above post, but this team is partly the reason the league had to suddenly add the Eagles. The Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes were originally the Pearls, but then for years were known as the Buffaloes until financial troubles left the team with no choice but to merge with Orix BigWave, forming the Orix Buffaloes. Here the mascot choice is pretty obvious, right? They are buffaloes, so a buffalo or two would be ideal. I dunno, maybe something like these two.

Well, they used to be the mascots before the merger. Now Neppie, the son of Neptune, God of the Sea, is the mascot of the Buffaloes. Not even joking. He’s joined below with Ripsea, a girl he rescued from pirates or something like that.

If you know the history, it kind of makes sense, but if they are going to keep the name Buffaloes, they really should have some sort of bovine as the mascot. Maybe they should have done the merger differently… maybe left the BigWave name and used a surfing buffalo as the mascot. Or does that make too much sense for you, Japan? Interestingly, these two or the only human mascots of the twelve major baseball teams, though if you ask me I think they look like monkeys.

Lotte Marines

The Chiba team owned by the people who sell Lotteria hamburgers. While their burgers may be soggy, they have a seagull for their oceanic team, and that makes sense enough to me! There sure are a lot of bird mascots, though.

Seibu Lions

I think this is probably the most logical choice, but the Saitama team’s mascot is a male white lion named Leo.

Wait a minute… white lion? Leo? Doesn’t that sound familiar to anyone else?

Rather than create their own mascot, they simply got permission to use an Osamu Tezuka classic anime character known as Leo in Japan and Kimba in America. But I can’t complain, because I like Leo and he looks good as a mascot. Which is more than I can say for our final two teams…

Yokohama BayStars

This is the only team to go by the name of the city it represents rather than by the name of the company who owns them (something Hokkaido Ham Fighters should consider). Originally they were the Yokohama Taiyou Whales, but in the nineties it was decided to make them BayStars. Yokohama is located on a bay, and I guess they wanted to feel like superstars, but don’t make your mascot a star!

His name is Hossy, and he looks as though some regular Joe got his head stuck up a plush toy’s anus. What he was doing up there in the first place, I don’t even want to know, but now we have Hossy. While the name seems random at first, I’m going to take a stab at this and guess it’s a play on the Japanese word for “star”, hoshi. Personally, I would have preferred the old whale mascot, but since that was a time before Youtube I was hard-up on any videos of the lug. For anyone interested in tweeting with Hossy in Japanese, you’re in luck.

Toyo Carp

Oh Hiroshima… you’ve had it rough over the years, but really? You went with a carp? That’s the animal you chose to represent your team? Okay, the koi goldfish is an everlasting Japanese symbol of love and friendship. I can see how they could apply that to a baseball team; the players are all close and they love baseball. But a fish mascot would have to look pretty hilarious flopping around on the field, and the Toyo Carp higher ups must have realized this too. My mascot theory continues with some genius giving his five-year-old child acid and a box of crayons saying, “Here, son, draw the first thing you hallucinate.” Because I firmly believe a pyschedelic trip is the only explanation for Slyly, the Toyo Carp mascot.

What is Slyly? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. But if H.R. Pufnstuff gave you nightmares, whatever you do, do not click this link.

2 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Trisha Lynn and Trisha Lynn, Geeking Out About. Geeking Out About said: Go-Go-Gaijin: Baseball Mascot Misnomers http://dlvr.it/1VGdF […]

  2. Written by NAAN
    on 2010-06-07 at 12:06

    Which one is Doredore? The eyes? That…thing that looks like something out of Ahhh! Real Monsters? xD

    This was a cool article to read, and it makes me want to go to Japan just to see all the mascots xD Very informative too! It's interesting how Japan perceives making mascots vs. the States. I don't even want to imagine how regional mascots look like (eg minor leagues and all that).

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