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How a hyperactive, dancing, talking pear became a Japanese obsession

By Will Ripley, CNN and Edmund S. Henry, for CNN
updated 10:47 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Funassyi, the self-made rock star of a mascot that captured the heart of an entire nation waves to his adoring fans at a festival in Tokyo in May. Funassyi, the self-made rock star of a mascot that captured the heart of an entire nation waves to his adoring fans at a festival in Tokyo in May.
HIDE CAPTION
Japan's rock-star mascot
Catch phrase: "Nashiii!"
From humble beginnings
... to superstardom
Meet Kumamon
Hometown heroes
Success against the odds
Funassyi's CNN debut
Adoring fans
Cute, cuddly, bizarre
Money for mascots
Imitating the legend
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Japanese pear mascot enjoys enduring popularity
  • Funassyi's origins lie in his YouTube channel
  • Funassyi's ability to speak makes him an interactive and electrifying crowd favorite

Toyko, Japan (CNN) -- He may be diminutive in stature as he appears under the shadow of the Tokyo Skytree, Japan's tallest structure at 634 meters. But as he twists and screams "I'm so pretty!" onstage, it becomes clear that his star is rising.

The crowd of thousands goes wild, screaming his name and snapping as many photos as they can.

"Funassyi" is a superstar in a pear costume.

In the world of cute, cuddly, and sometimes bizarre mascots, these "yuru-kyara" (meaning gentle or laid back characters), have been a ubiquitous presence in advertising in Japan for decades. But Funassyi is a hyperactive talking and dancing pear who has distinguished himself from the pack.

In fact, Funassyi is a household name.

READ: Japanese cuteness overload could result in mascot cull

Coming from the northwestern city of Funabashi, known for its delicious pears, Funassyi's origins lie in his YouTube channel created two years ago. The fact that he spoke, jumped, and had a distinctively flamboyant personality made him different from typically quiet and cuddly Japanese mascots.

Mascot mania means big bucks in Japan

Since then, his popularity has exploded, boasting an impressive resume that includes television appearances, commercials and ad campaigns, and even his own novelty single released under Universal Music Japan.

Funassyi's undeniable charisma

But what makes Funassyi so different from his countless cohorts of colorful characters?

At first glance, one may think his bright yellow color, sparkling eyes and perpetual smile is nothing new for a country with an army of crazy characters like Sanomaru, a white puppy-like mascot from Sano city with an upside down ramen bowl on his head, or Okazaemon, a creepy ghost-like character from Okazaki prefecture.

However, the moment Funassyi starts dancing widely and emphatically hyping up the crowd in his high-pitched voice, ending sentences with his catchphrase "nashiiii!" (Pear!) -- this mascot becomes an unforgettable presence.

While even the most popular mascots in Japan like Kumamon, a rosy-cheeked black bear from Kumamoto prefecture, are silent and slow moving, Funassyi's unique costume design allows for rapid, energetic movements that he uses to jump up and down to excite and rile up his audience. In addition, his ability to speak makes him an interactive and electrifying crowd favorite.

Funassyi and the iconic Japanese teddy bear Kumamon are the superstars of the 2014 Yuru-Kyara festival, which features mascots from all over Japan. People line up to meet and pose for pictures with their favorite mascots and more importantly, buy their exclusive merchandise that includes everything from handbags, towels, T-shirts, and much more.

According to the Character Data Bank, a research firm that studies the character business, mascot-driven character sales amounted to nearly $16 billion in Japan in 2012.

Replicating the Funassyi effect

Other prefectures are hoping to replicate Funassyi and Kumamon's enormous commercial success by releasing their own yuru-kyara's, in an effort to attract regional tourism and land national ad campaigns of their own.

Kumamon's brand is already expanding overseas, with themed products soon to be appearing in 7-Eleven convenience stores in Taiwan.

Although Funassyi's stardom currently remains limited to Japan, it's not unbelievable to imagine his following expanding worldwide, placing him among the ranks of other Japanese icons that became multi-billion-dollar icons.

The creators of Kumamon and Funassyi are hoping for the kind of global fame as Japanese icons Hello Kitty and Pikachu.

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