Sento-kun and Town Mascots

I don’t know about America, but in Japan, towns have mascots. You know, to promote awareness of the existence of the town. Tajimi, my home and the hottest place in the world, has the mascot “Unagappa”, which is a cross between an eel (unagi) and a kappa (god only knows). The story behind the Unagappa is actually kind of a charming folk tale, in which the kappa, alleged servant of the Water God, goes wild after being disrespected by the people of Tajimi, but is put back in his place by the Dragon God (an eel, perhaps??), and forced to reside in Toki River (the river next to my apartment) and survive on a diet of local eels (which are abundant), to the point that he eventually becomes a sort of half-kappa, half-eel creature hellbent on telling people the temperature (see photo).

At first I was put off by the idea of having a crudely drawn river imp for a mascot, but I suppose the Unagappa has bored his way into my heart over time. One mascot that will never do so for me nor for the native citizens of the region he represents is “Sento-kun”. Sento-kun is a monstrosity of tourism marketing. He may as well be a giant yen symbol. If you know a little bit about Japan but don’t know who Sento-kun is, then perhaps you can guess where he’s from just by seeing his picture.


I’ll wait.

‘Kay, now that you’re back from barfing all over the place, I’ll clarify for the confused. Sento-kun is half-deer, half-Buddha statue, all grotesquerie. Why has this nasty mental flatulence made its way onto so many posters, into so many souvenirs, and yes, even into the food we eat? Clearly this was decided upon in a boardroom after precisely four seconds of intense brainstorming.

“Quick, Nara needs a mascot. What’s Nara got?”

“Uhh, wild deer and a giant Buddha statue.”

“Okay, we’ll take a Buddha, forcibly graft some antlers onto its skull and sell it in cookie form for fifteen bucks a box. Bing-bang-boom. Now let’s all go cheat on our wives at the usual establishment.”

Surely there’s some Buddhist teaching which decries exploiting the visage of the Buddha for financial gain, or at least one against grafting antlers to his skull. In 2008, Japan’s Yahoo News conducted a study revealing that the mascot had a 78% disapproval rate. Cited criticism included “Sento-kun is gross” and “He’s an insult to the Buddha”.

Not to mention an insult to the average citizen’s sensibilities. Imagine if every major city had such haphazardly designed mascots, where two things from that place are just grafted together like Frankenstein’s monster. What would New York’s be? The Pizza of Liberty? Would San Francisco get a gay sea lion? Detroit some kind of deranged thugmobile? Hell, I challenge you readers out there to invent your own Sento-kun-style mascots in the comments. Visual aids welcome!

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