One way Japanese towns and prefectures that are nowhere near Tokyo try to seek our attention is through character mascots, or yurukyara (ゆるキャラ). So many towns and prefectures do employ them.
Last week, we also learned that it is possible to fire a character mascot, just like any other employee.
Since January 2018, a pet otter named ちぃたん☆ (Chiitan☆) has purported itself been the mascot of Susaki, a city in Kochi Prefecture. The winner of the 2016 Yurukyara Grand Prix, Chiitan☆ is an anthropomorphic incarnation of a real-live otter that lives in a talent agency in Akihabara.
According to SoraNews24, Chiitan☆ had no actual authority to represent the city, but had apparent authority as represented by the city:
Due to the real otter’s popularity, an anthropomorphic yurukyara version was made to give Chiitan’s brand added mobility. To accomplish this her Tokyo-based management used an existing otter costume design that was created for Shinjo-kun, the official, and preexisting, mascot character for Susaki City.
Possibly because the similarities were hard to ignore, Chiitan declared herself to be a “tourism ambassador” for Susaki City. Likely realizing the potential of her popularity, the city accepted and recognized her status as a quasi-official representative of the city. The costumed Chiitan even made several videos alongside Shinjo-kun.
But Chiitan☆’s dual (and conflicting) roles as social media star and PR ambassador for Susaki city would not last. It didn’t help that humans doing dumb shit while dressed in oversized otter costumes was part and parcel of Chiitan☆’s brand.
Granted, other yurukyara would also do dumb shit, but at least they tried somewhat to promote their localities (for example, Kumamon tripping over in a Kyushu Shinkansen maintenance facility in Kumamoto – the Shinkansen facility itself being a regional power move).
People in Susaki city began to complain about Chiitan☆ — particularly how it could potentially encourage animal abuse — and so the city decided to fire Chiitan☆ from its role. According to the Huffington Post:
On its official website and Twitter account, Chiitan☆ had purported to be a “Tourist Ambassador” for Susaki city in Koichi Prefecture. But the city vehemently denies this relationship: “We did not ask [Chiitan☆ to become our ambassador]; we merely acquiesced. Since this was unofficial from the very beginning, there is no question of there being any relationship to terminate.” Responding to the city, Chiitan☆ said: “I always thought that I was always together with the bigger chiitan [i.e. Shinjo-kun]. There was never any express written contract, so I didn’t know that we were being differentiated.
The moral of the story from a second-year law school student’s perspective? Don’t let rogue agents represent your interests.