Four centuries ago, a daimyo by the name of Naokatsu Ii ordered the construction of a massive fortress in Shiga prefecture. It was a tribute to his father, felled by musket-fire on the killing fields of Seki-ga-Hara. He completed the castle keep in 1607; he wouldn't finish building the castle itself for close to twenty years, at one point reduced to scavenging stones from ruins nearby when the Tokugawa Shogunate temporarily siezed his holdings in the early 17th century.
What would this man make of Hikonyan, the official mascot character created to celebrate the four hundredth year anniversary of Hikone Castle, the fortress he built with his own hands?
Even those familiar with plush-suited mascot characters at sporting events in America, Europe, and other countries can be taken by surprise by the depth of the aesthetic in Japan. Official mascots are a sub-species of working character; here in Japan they're referred to as yuru-kyara ("weak" or "soft" characters), a term coined by artist Jun Miura to signfy the fact that they're really kinda... well, forced. But that doesn't stop nearly any event, location, or organization, no matter how major or minor, from creating one. Why? Because that's what they DO here. (I could bore you with endless prattle about animism and cultural traditions, but it really comes down to that.)
Hikonyan, whose name is a combination of Hikone and "nyan," Japanese onomotapoeia for a cat meowing, is a perfect case in point. Actually, Hikonyan is an insane case in point, because of the sheer extreme to which the concept's been taken. Most places are content simply to print a cute character on their brochures or trot out a sweaty furry-suit-clad chararacter on special occasions. Not Hikone Castle. They've released the beast, so to speak. In addition to the ubiquitous official profile (he loves "fish and meat" and his hobbies include "walking"), there's a Hikonyan Club photo album with more than a hundred candid shots of our man (?) riding in boats with samurai, invading sporting events, taking long walks on castle grounds, even kickin' it with other official mascots.
And if that wasn't enough for you, Hikonyan's been featured on NHK (could a showdown with Domo-Kun be in the works?) and even stars in Hikonyan: The Movie, posted (where else) on YouTube for the whole world to see. (It's already gotten more than 100,000 hits, which should give you a some sense of the cult popularity Hikonyan enjoys in certain circles over here. From Seki-ga-Hara to worshipping kawaii mascot characters... How times change in just four centuries!)