Betcha didn't know that 2008 is the International Year of the Reef. As anyone who dives or snorkels tropical waters knows, coral reefs are windows into another world -- and increasingly threatened by climate change, pollution, and overfishing. International Year of the Reef is sponsored by a variety of countries, including Australia, France, Mexico, the Philippines, and America, but only the Japanese have gone the extra mile and created not one but SEVEN super kawaii mascot characters to promote it!
Clockwise from left, you've got Oniide (a super-cute crown-of-thorns starfish, nicknamed the "demon-star" in Japanese for its toxic spines), Shota (the boy with coral for hair), Kacchi, Chu, and Zou (a trio of coral polyps), Taiyo-Kun (the sun), Unibo (a sea urchin), Kanirin (a crab-girl) and Jangurasu (sea grass). The mascots were named in a nationwide competition; a 76-year-old from Fukushima submitted "Shota," while a 7-year-old from Tokyo came up with "Taiyo-Kun," showing the huge popularity of "working characters" (as we call them in Hello, Please) across a wide demographic in Japan.