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Tokyo 2020 mascot designer leaves unique impression with designs, appearance

Ryo Taniguchi holds a board bearing the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic mascots during an interview at the Mainichi Shimbun Fukuoka Headquarters on March 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

Character designer Ryo Taniguchi came upon a call for mascot proposals on social media by accident, and now, his two characters that originated from a 2-minute rough sketch will be representing Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    With a checkerboard design and cherry blossom petals, the Olympic and Paralympic mascot pair portray Japanese tradition and nature with a futuristic flavor. "I was happy," the 43-year-old Taniguchi says with a smile, "And because of the prize money, I also feel relieved that I made it by the skin of my teeth."

    From as far back as he can remember, Taniguchi has loved to draw. After graduating from high school in Fukuoka, he went to a college in the United States to study art. When he returned, a character he drew garnered praise from his father, an illustrator that Taniguchi respected. "I got the praise of a pro," he says, and made the decision to be an artist.

    His first gallery show was on the street. In one corner of Fukuoka's bustling shopping district of Tenjin, Taniguchi lined up postcard illustrations, selling them for 150 yen a piece. Through connections Taniguchi fostered, he expanded his activities, and married a woman six years his junior in 2008 that he met through a friend. However, his entries to contests continued to be rejected, and at the end of 2017, he and his wife talked of how to cut costs as their savings dwindled. The call for designs for the Tokyo 2020 Games could not have come at a better time.

    Even before his marriage, Taniguchi has kept up his appearance of close-cropped hair and dressing in a padded kimono jacket called a "dotera" so that not only his work, but he also leaves an impression on people. For the selection of the Tokyo mascots, Taniguchi appeared on various media, and his strategy yielded results. His wife even gave him the nickname "dokodemo (everywhere) dotera man."

    Flooded with commissions for his work, the legacy of "dotera man" has only just begun.

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