The exciting atmosphere of a J-League match is created by thousands of supporters who bring their banners, flags, and most importantly voices to stadiums across Japan. But there’s one group of 40 furred and feathered supporters that work from morning to night on match day and frequently in-between as well: the J-League’s dedicated team mascots.
While team mascots have long been a far more common sight in America than in Europe, the Japanese peoples’ love of cute characters has made the creations - animal-inspired and otherwise - a hit in the Land of the Rising Sun as well.
These mascots, known locally as yuru-kyara, represent everything from corporations and civic associations to local governments. The most popular yuru-kyara, such as Kumamoto Prefecture mascot Kumamon, become national icons and often travel overseas to promote Japan.
In the J-League, mascots serve a number of roles in and outside of the stadium every weekend. First and foremost, they entertain the crowd before the match and at halftime, with some characters incorporating athletic demonstrations into their routines.
While it’s true that many mascots are created in order to appeal to children, they are loved in Japan by all ages and genders. Before kickoff it’s common to see fans young and old waiting in line to take a photo with team mascots, and limited-edition merchandise often flies off the shelves.
They also act as a way to connect the club with the surrounding community. The designs of many J-League mascots are inspired by animals native to the local area, as well as the city or prefecture’s official colors. Mascots often participate in local events such as charity fundraisers and festivals, which not only increases interactions between the clubs and local residents but often draws supporters to these gatherings, which sometimes feature the J-League mascots interact with local mascots.
Just like national and regional mascot festivals where dozens of characters gather, there are several opportunities for J-League fans to encounter club mascots from across the country. One is the J-League Supercup, where mascots face off in a skills competition before the J-League Division 1 and Emperor’s Cup champions face off. The other is at the J-League Special Match, a charity game that has been held since 2012 in support of Tohoku.
Mascots are a colorful and entertaining part of the J-League experience, and no one’s trip to the stadium is complete without spotting one in person! To learn about each club’s mascot, check out our J-League Team Profiles.