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Japan city aims to be flush with new residents using poo-punning cloud fairy 'Unkochan'

This image shows Unkochan, an unofficial mascot for the city of Unnan, Shimane Prefecture, which has gradually grown popular in Japan. (C)unko

MATSUE -- "Unkochan," a peculiar yet endearing cloud mascot with a memorable name is finally getting its moment in the spotlight after first appearing in a 2014 brochure as an unofficial representative for west Japan city Unnan.

    Its name is a combination of the kanji characters for "cloud" and "child," the cloud kanji being one of the characters in Unnan's name. But Unkochan is also a play on the Japanese word unko, meaning "poop."

    The character was designed by a municipal government employee as "a 10-year-old fairy child born from the clouds of the city of Unnan." Unkochan is characterized by its cloud-shaped head and outie belly button, and apparently likes to eat "yakisaba-zushi," or grilled mackerel sushi, a local specialty in this Shimane Prefecture city.

    Although Unkochan was a late bloomer, its impactful name and cute design has garnered attention recently -- currently it has its own varied lineup of related goods. Talk of creating a full-body mascot costume is also in the air.

    Rina Kanetsuki, a member of citizen group Unkochan no kai, is seen introducing Unkochan mascot goods in the city of Unnan, Shimane Prefecture, on June 14, 2021. (Mainichi/Hajime Meno)

    In 2019, local residents and others beguiled by the mascot's charming nature established the citizens group "Unkochan no kai" with an aim to use it in PR to encourage people to move to the area. Last year, municipal government staff members wore polo shirts with Unkochan designs during the "Cool Biz" season, a government initiative encouraging light summer-business attire. The clothing caught the attention of members of the public when employees wore them out in the city or on visits.

    There is a variety of Unkochan goods. Koeishishu, an embroidery shop in the city, develops products. Now there are apparently as many as around 20 kinds of items, including keychains, stuffed animals, and masks.

    Sachiko Wakatsuki, 54, who works at the shop and is also a member of Unkochan no kai, said that they have recently been receiving many inquiries.

    In addition, applicants to the Unkochan no kai are freely allowed to use the character on products. Rina Kanetsuki, 28, a group member and employee at the Unnan Municipal Government's Unnan life promotion section, said, "We also utilize the character by handing out related goods at events to promote living here. I'd like it to become a character people think of immediately when Unnan is mentioned."

    Inquiries regarding applications for the character's use can be made to Unkochan no kai at unnan.unkochan@gmail.com, and merchandise is sold at Koeishishu (at 0854-45-2769) and other locations.

    (Japanese original by Hajime Meno, Matsue Bureau)

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