Tokyo: Dozens of state-funded cuddly mascots could be culled in western Japan after a local authority found the public doesn`t recognise many of them, as managers look to rein in an obsession with cuteness.
Thousands of "yuru-kyara" ("laid-back characters") have been created all over Japan by police, traffic safety officials, tax offices, libraries and even jails in a bid to press home various messages to a public particularly susceptible to over sized puppets.
The most successful go on to become national celebrities, playing their part in an industry worth tens of billions of dollars a year in merchandising alone.
Creations like Kumamon -- a tubby black bear used to promote a lesser-known part of southern Japan -- are instantly-recognisable motifs that have become part of the country`s cultural landscape, adorning everything from keychains to planes.
Others carve their own niches, like Asahikawa Prison`s Katakkuri-chan, a nearly two-metre humanoid with a huge square face and an enormous purple flower for hair.
Or national broadcaster NHK`s Domo-kun, a brown rectangle with permanently-bared teeth that looks a little like an angry hash brown.
But the huge number of yuru-kyara -- and their dazzling array of peculiar features -- condemns most to the obscurity of peddling little-heeded public safety messages.
Now Osaka prefecture has decided it is time for a cull, and is looking to trim its stable of 45 yuru-kyara to concentrate its efforts on a few more-recognisable offerings.
"As I have said many times, we have too many characters," Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui told reporters last month.
Stung by the success of Funassyi, an unofficial pear-fairy mascot for the fruit-producing city of Funabashi near Tokyo, Matsui said many of Osaka`s yuru-kyara barely registered on the public radar.
"We are all being beaten by this character. We`ve got to do something," Matsui said.
Osaka`s own offering, Moppy, which is inspired by a native bird, ranked a lowly 1,072 among more than 1,500 mascots that took part in a popularity vote last year.
Governor Matsui has suggested the local government cast aside some of the lesser-known mascots and focus their efforts on Moppy, perhaps by letting him procreate and even learn to talk.