Japan is obsessed with mascot characters. Mascots are the ‘there’s an app for that’ of Japanese culture. Anything you can think of – it’ll have one.
In sports, some of the most famous mascots are reps for baseball.
In a league of their own
Japan splits their 12 pro baseball teams into 2 leagues: ‘Central’ (shortened to ‘Se’ in katakana), and ‘Pacific’ (‘Pa’ for short).
6 ‘Central’ league teams and 6 ‘Pacific’ league teams make for… way more than 12 big baseball mascots. Some teams have team mascots and stadium mascots, some create whole sub-teams of characters.
We’ve picked our 3 weird faves from each league. Go to a baseball game with any of these mascots attending, and even if nobody hits a ball all day you’ll still be entertained.
Mysterious Fish (Chiba Lotte Marines)
‘Nazo no Sakana’ (謎の魚) = the mysterious fish. And you’re gonna wonder how or why anyone ever came up with it to rep baseball.
It’s evolved, as animals do, from a character that appeared on screen pre-game to an ever-present, gross-kawaii stadium mascot. That can speak French. Or at least, it knows how to say ‘bonjour’…
All mascots have a basic profile, with info like their height and weight, blood type, a birthday, favourite food. All except for Nazo no Sakana:
- Star sign: Virgo (not Pisces?! omg)
- Blood type: a mystery
- Interests and hobbies: a mystery
- Weakness: things that are too mysterious
- Favourite food: mysterious things
- Least favourite food: mysteries
We don’t even know if it can swim.
Toracky/To Lucky (Hanshin Tigers)
There’s no way we could do this list without Osaka’s home team, it wouldn’t feel right. Plus no other mascot’s got bust, waist and hips measurements…
‘Tora’ means tiger, and the ‘-cky’ is for ‘lucky’. The luck must be working, ’cause To Lucky’s stuck around as the main Hanshin mascot since 1985. He got a redesign in 1992, and a girlfriend – called Lucky – in 1994.
Okay, that’s not 100% true. When Lucky first debuted, they were brother and sister. The story got changed to ‘girlfriend’ a couple years later.
To Lucky has a custom theme song and dance – Let’s go! To Lucky. Learn those arm moves in time to catch the next game, okay?
Slyly (Hiroshima Toyo Carp)
You’ll have zero trouble spotting Slyly even from the back row of the Carp’s Mazda Stadium seating. It’s 2.1 metres (7 feet) tall.
Maybe you feel like you’ve seen this mascot somewhere before. Like… on Sesame Street. Yep, the same design team behind Big Bird and Elmo created one of Japanese baseball’s literally biggest characters.
We’re nicknaming Slyly the ‘Yakyuu (野球, baseball) Monster’.
Both Slyly’s gender and nationality are down as ‘unknown’. And instead of a ‘player number’ on the back of the shirt, it’s got an exclamation mark.
Does this make Hiroshima Carp the most progressive baseball team?
Clutch (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)
Named for what you can also call an ‘eagle grip’ in English. The team – and the mascots – wants to latch onto your heart and never let go.
That commitment to the theme runs all the way through. Both Clutch and Rakuten’s female mascot, with the ‘more kawaii’ name Clutchena, are specifically golden eagles.
There’s also Switch, the American harpy eagle. If his profile’s anything to go by, being American means: measuring height and weight to the decimal point, eating junk food, and being able to pitch and catch with both hands.
How come Switch gets all those sweet upgrades though? Clutch’s special skill is ‘posing like an eagle’. That’s… the bare minimum we expect.
D.B. Starman (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)
When the Yokohama Baystars became the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, they got a new uniform and a new mascot.
D.B. Starman’s a hamster, born and raised in Yokohama. When you write ‘hamster’ in Japanese (ハムスター), it ends with ‘star’ (スター). His face and paws have 5-pointed stars, pushing that wordplay joke as far as it’ll go.
In the official profile, Starman’s ‘as tall as 5 baseballs’. And he weighs 10 baseballs, but wants to drop down to 5. We’re not sure that’s so healthy.
To confirm that Starman is, in fact, a man, the Baystars also have a female mascot called D.B. Kirara. Her height and weight are measured in bonbons, and she has no plans to diet.
HARRY HAWK (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)
You have to put the name in English all-caps after the katakana. That’s how you know Harry Hawk (sorry, HARRY HAWK) isn’t Japanese. And that he’s not the same ‘Harry The Hawk’ who reps Atlanta’s NBA team.
Fukuoka’s Softbank-sponsored team has an entire Hawk mascot family – 8 hawks. That’s the most mascots total for any Japanese team, which is no mean feat.
Harry’s the central character, with grandparents, a cheerleader girlfriend, and 3 kids. Oh yeah, and a rival… instead of (mysteriously missing) parents.
All that, at only 23 years old. We feel weird feeling weird about a mascot’s age, but some bits of this happy family literally don’t add up. His girlfriend, Honey, is even younger at 18. The oldest kid’s already 7. You do the math.
Who do you support?
Being in Japan makes following baseball teams and matches easier (and how). There’s nothing stopping you cheering them on from further away.