Japan is full of costumed mascots, representing anything from villages to corporations to the local prison. New mascots, called yurukyara, are invented for every TV show and advertising campaign. But it's not easy to convey personality when you can't speak or use your own facial expressions, so the people who aspire to live inside those kawaii costumes go to Choko Group Mascot Actor’s School. The school was founded by actor Choko Ohira, who worked in costume on a children's show for ten years, then decided to train the next generation of mascots.
Her dedication is key, as it’s not a simple matter of prancing around in a costume. Companies might just put their new recruits into a mascot suit without any training, but students at Choko Group adhere to strict rules set by the school. These include never letting anyone see you change or showing skin when in costume. Keeping the fantasy alive of it being a flesh-and-blood character, rather than a human in a suit, is of the utmost importance.
For that same reason, no talking is allowed either, unless the student has progressed to the upper echelons of mascot society as the main actor, or is in a generic costume that isn’t tied to one specific yurukyara. If speaking is required, cuteness is key, no matter the actor’s natural tone of voice. Who can wear which costume is specified by height, not gender, so the chance of a cute animal costumes being worn by a man with a deep voice is just as high as it being a high-pitched woman, and there should be no discrepancy in the level of kawaii (cuteness). Other than that, a sunny disposition and a reasonable level of fitness always help. The costumes can be cumbersome, there’s lots of movement involved, and those movements have to look as upbeat as possible.
Read more about yurukyara training at Atlas Obscura.
(Image credit: Roberto Solisa)