OSAKA/YOKKAICHI, Mie/OMUTA, Fukuoka -- "Kaparu," the mascot character for the Saitama Prefecture city of Shiki, won the "Yuru Chara Grand Prix 2018" contest on Nov. 18, overcoming an organized voting scandal.
Kaparu's design is based on the mythical creature "kappa," or water goblin. It was the first time that the mascot, representing a public corporation to promote culture and sports in the city north of Tokyo, was chosen as the most popular local character for the year.
The grand prix event, held this year for the eighth time, attracted entries from 507 local mascots in the regional category, while 402 brand mascots participated in the company and others category.
However, some local governments mobilized workers to vote en masse for their municipal mascots, which violated the contest's fundamental rule of "one person, one vote a day." After announcing the provisional results, the executive committee deleted numerous IDs over cheating suspicions in advance online voting. Mascots were then ranked based on the number of adjusted online ballots, in addition to votes casted by visitors to the Nov. 17-18 event at Hanazono in the city of Higashiosaka, western Japan. Attendees' votes counted for three times those of online ballots.
The Mie Prefecture city of Yokkaichi's municipal mascot "Konyudo-kun" came first in a preliminary tally with around 1.18 million online votes. But the western Japan city mascot slid into third place with 807,592 votes after adjustment. The mascot character "Jabow," representing the city of Omuta in southwest Japan's Fukuoka Prefecture, was temporarily in second place, followed by "Inunakin" from the Osaka Prefecture city of Izumisano. But both saw their vote numbers reduced due to illicit votes, resulting in second place and fourth place finishes, respectively.
"We aimed to win so we are sad, but I will accept the results with sincerity," Yokkaichi Mayor Tomohiro Mori commented. "Although it's disappointing that there is an impression that we organized voting, Konyudo-kun has become known nationwide through media coverage, which is a great success."
While Omuta Mayor Masahiro Nakao acknowledged that Jabow "achieved an outstanding result at second place," he complained of feeling "deeply ashamed" of being deprived of ballots along with other local governments. A representative of the Izumisano Municipal Government stated, "We want to work hard on promotions with Inunakin so tourists won't pass by the area where Kansai International Airport is located."
After Kaparu emerged from fourth place to clinch first, an official in charge of promoting the mascot denied any possibility of organized voting because the office only has a few staff members. The official analyzed that Kaparu emerged victorious thanks to fans encouraging others online to vote to prevent Kaparu from losing against contestants supported by organized voting.
Shuichiro Nishi, chairman of the contest organizing committee, complained about the heated contest saying that, "the era in which mascot characters served as silver bullets has ended."
(Japanese original by Kazuki Ikeda, Osaka City News Department, Noriyoshi Matsumoto, Yokkaichi Bureau, Kazuya Inoue, Omuta Local Bureau and Sayaka Kamohara, Izumisano Resident Bureau)