Roaming the streets of Tokyo’s busiest districts is Koronon, a massive pink cat on a mission to help Japanese citizens vanquish the coronavirus. Similar in appearance to Sanrio’s Hello Kitty, the mask-wearing feline, whose name loosely translates to “no corona,” encourages social distancing among citizens, and hands out free masks, reports Bailey Berg for Atlas Obscura.
First spotted in September 2020, Koronon was created by Al-pha Co., a temporary staffing and event promotion agency that wanted to help curb the spread of the virus. Since the company could not develop a vaccine, they hopes that Koronon will do her part by slowing the spread while bringing a smile to the citizens she encounters, a company representative explained to Sophie-Claire Hoeller for Insider in November 2020.
Koronon’s weapons of choice to fight the coronavirus are a purple heart-shaped shield with “Koronon” etched on it, a transparent face shield that says, “stay healthy & safe,” and a face mask, reports Insider. The anti-coronavirus mascot also has the phrase “Covid-19” crossed out with a red X on its belly and serves as a visible reminder to practice hand hygiene, and wear masks, reports Atlas Obscura. While central Tokyo is not fully re-opened yet, citizens are often seen out and about on the street interacting with Koronon and other mascots.
Mascots are a significant part of Japanese culture. In other countries, mascots are limited to amusement parks and sporting events, but Japan has a mascot for every town, business, event, local exports, and jurisdiction, Atlas Obscura reports. One website lists 3,500 total mascots across the country that draw on Japanese folklore elements, anime, manga, and video games. For example, Saiyou-Kun, a rhino in a suit with anime eyes, is the mascot for the Tokyo Foundation for Employment services, and Gansho-Kun, a walking lump of coal with neglected buildings adorning its head, represents Gunkanjima, a small abandoned mining island off the coast of Nagasaki, per Atlas Obscura.
Many mascots that existed before the pandemic were repurposed to educate the public on the virus. Now, they are featured on signs reminding people to social distance and wearing masks when interacting with people.
“Mascots help take the edge off when grim and serious matters are being discussed,” Chris Carlier, who has been documenting Japan’s mascots on the social media account Mondo Mascots for almost a decade, tells Atlas Obscura.
Here’s the mask I got from Koronon the anti-coronavirus cat. pic.twitter.com/4yb2V7SKWJ— Mondo Mascots (@mondomascots) September 6, 2020
While Koronon is the first pandemic-specific mascot, other ones have also popped up to help fight Covid-19. Shinjuku Awawa is a giant soap bubble that reminds citizens to wash their hands properly. Quaran is an official mascot created by the Japanese Ministry of Health who reminds people to self-isolate and quarantine. Amabie, a mascot first introduced in 1846 who resembles a mermaid, helps heal people from diseases and wards off plagues, Federica Macotta reported for Wired in November 2020.
However, while the mascots are a visible part of the local Japanese governments’ efforts to curb Covid-19, it’s difficult to quantify their impact because they are spreading awareness and social distancing rules in areas already following them, Atlas Obscura explains.
Those interested in meeting Koronon can look on the mascot’s social media pages on Instagram and Twitter to see where they are handing out masks for the day. Koronon can also be booked to visit schools and offices to talk about stopping the spread of Covid-19.