I have been waiting for this "世界キャラクターさみっとin 羽生" (World character summit in Hanyu, Saitama) since October. I fell in love with those amazing characters that created by Japanese local government or company. You can see how many work and reach they did behind a successful character. This year it been holding at a nature park in Saitama, which is about 1 hour and 30 minutes access from Tokyo by train. The whole event lasting for 2 days from 19th - 20th November.
I used to think to be a cute character that represents an area in Japan seems very easy. Because you don't need to speak (actually characters usually don't allow to speak, of course, there are special ones). Each character actually has their own "manager" that give them suggestions what to do when people trying to take picture of them. When I am walking in the park, I saw some unpopular characters that have no one surrounded. But in another hand, those famous ones, everyone wants to take pictures of them. Some of those less popular ones' manager trying so hard to make their character get closer to those popular ones. So they can get on the pictures as well. That exactly like some celebrities want to become famous so they try so hard to get closer to people who has more reputation and more fans than them.
This event is a very interesting experience for me. You will never have this kind of event outside Japan. I really appreciated how much work they did for each character. It actually works very well in order to promote local travel business. I will definitely go next year as well. If you planning travel to Japan next year or you want to learn how Japanese local government turn this character thing into a really successful business in order to gain more tourists. Do check this "World Character Summit" at that time.
The opening ceremony starts at 9am in the morning, which mean I need to get up at 7:30am. I am not a morning person so as my friend, so we decided arrive there around 10am. There is a shuttle bus arranged by the event, each person is 500 yen for a round ticket. From Hanyu station to the park, it is about 20 minutes drive, which is further than what I thought. I only went there on Saturday, sadly the weather is bad. Because it is a nature park, the ground is mix with grass and mud. You can imagine the condition in a raining day.
There are two different section of the event, one is mainly for local restaurants the other is for different characters. I did some reach about those characters I definitely want to meet but somehow I missed a couple of them at the end of the day. Also, there are couple characters that only show up on 19th (Like Funassyi is only shown up at 19th and Kumamon is only shown up at 20th).
These characters are created by each local government that in order to promote their local travel business. If it created by local government, there called official characters. However, recently there are unofficial characters that create by individuals or maybe third parties. Such as Funassyi (Funabashi, Chiba), Nebarukun (Ibaraki) etc. The characters usually consist the famous part or food of the area. The reason I start knowing this industry is because I read some stories behind couple successful characters. Funassyi is nobody before, the person behind it create Funassyi by himself. He did everything from making the costume, thinking about stories behind the character and how to marketing it and let more people know. After couple years of his hard working, he finally got successful. Now people get crazy about him.