Japanese mascots go beyond cute to master trade


Eri Suzuki is serious about her goal in life - working in a theme park as a character mascot, one of those oversized, fuzzy creatures that dance and cavort with children. So she came to the Choko Group mascot school in Tokyo for instruction in the myriad tricks of the trade, such as how to move in giant feet and a furry animal head.

"Where are your eyes? Where are your ears?" said Choko Oohira, the school's founder, gesturing in front of a recent class on moving in costume that included students dressed as a giant panda, cats and sheep.Herself a 20-year veteran of the mascot arts, Oohira founded the school - the only one of its kind in Japan and, quite possibly, the world - in 1985. Her goal: to help mascot wannabes perfect the art of moving and playing the characters.

"When I see places where someone's hand is coming out between the costume's hands, or they take off their mask in front of people, or show their skin under the mask, it's very

disappointing," Oohira said."I just want to tell them that's not how to do it. I want to show the world how to fully become the character and explain that's how to make children happy.

"Students are taught everything from traditional dance, to help with actual dance routines as mascots, to different walking styles that illustrate different ages while wearing costumes. Other lessons include how to interact with children while wearing a costume, how to present a kind or even scary aura, and training to make sure the mascot's gestures work when people are unable to see the performer's face.

There are roughly 25 students, ranging from those just giving it a try for fun to others, like Suzuki, destined for work in theme parks. They range from those in their 20s up to those in their 50s.

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