Japan is brimming with unique characters and personas in the media and in real life, but I must say I’ve never seen anyone or anything quite like Chiitan.
While the U.S. has its share of fictional icons, these icons are often, if not always, linked to corporations, restaurants, sports teams, and the like. Chiitan simply is.
Who is Chiitan?
Chiitan is an otter of questionable repute who took the city of Susaki in Kōchi Prefecture by storm as its unofficial mascot in 2017. The real life local Asian small-clawed otter that inspired the so-called “fairy baby” otter due to its popularity initially led to the creation of Susaki’s official mascot Shinjo-kun…with Chiitan more or less being a byproduct.
Shinjo-kun, a Japanese river otter donning a bowl of ramen as a hat, is known for being your typical mascot. The otter even won first prize in the annual Yuru-chara Grand Prix (“yuru-chara” being a sub-category of cute, simple mascots used for promotion) for new mascots a year prior to Chiitan’s own conception.
To put it in trope talk, Shinjo-kun’s the “Blue Oni” to Chiitan’s chaotic “Red Oni” energy, the latter having gained their fame by performing stunts in a cartoonish, violent manner for social media and YouTube.
In some respects, the bat-wielding, turtle-wearing Chiitan has overtaken their friend and predecessor’s pristine image.
Nothing sells like shock value. What can I say?
Chiitan’s stunts may have endeared the offbeat otter to thousands of fans and followers across platforms, but ultimately, their controversial nature landed them in hot water with Susaki officials in 2019. Having received numerous cases and complaints of mistaken identity with Shinjo-kun, the city of Susaki cut ties with Chiitan and the disowned mascot was left to their own devices, to roam “unclaimed.”
Chiitan, Chiijohn, and John Oliver, Oh My!
Oh, and roam Chiitan did.
While the minds behind Chiitan were barred from producing content in the rogue otter’s likeness, said otter swam on to many a lawsuit and cancelled project. With no Red Oni to play off of or temper, Susaki’s original otter, too, was on his own.
And then, Chiijohn happened.
On April 28th, 2019, comedian and host John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight show covered Chiitan with zeal, introducing a new generation of English-speaking viewers to the mascot. Taken by the mascot’s history and quirky tendencies, the John Oliver crew went on to design the dorky glasses-wearing “Chiijohn” to fill the void left in Shijo-kun’s heart. Needless to say, Chiitan was not amused.
Chiitan was not pleased with the friend-snatching interloper.
Not at all.
In the same vein as viral sensations of the past, the rogue otter proceeded to start fake beef with Oliver on Twitter.
Not even a month after that fateful Last Week Tonight episode aired, however, multiple Twitter accounts under the Chiitan name were suspended without warning. Since then, fans have rallied behind their beloved otter in the hopes of restoring their platforms.
While the Chiitan vs. Chiijohn shenanigans were all clearly done in good fun, no one in the Twitterverse seems to have a clear answer as to why Chiitan was singled out when those in charge of the social media platform have been anything but consistent as far as penalties go.
I’m surprised that those responsible for Chiitan were even allowed to maintain an online presence considering one of the lawsuits mentioned earlier had to do with copyright, the mascot rights belonging to the Susaki government due to their “yuru-chara” nature.
There are a number of theories floating on the internet as to the “who” and “why” behind the suspension, but as of now, I think it’s fair to say the mascot rubbed someone off the wrong way.
Chiitan vs. Pengsoo
I seriously doubt Chiitan’s call to action (i.e wanting to throwdown with Chiijohn) was the stone that broke the otter’s back. With that said, their activity, online and otherwise, has been greatly reduced since last year…
Until they next resurface, I’d like to suggest an alternative for y’all.
The notorious Chiitan may be their own animal, but as I watched Oliver gush and laugh over them, I was vaguely reminded of another costumed creature of the sea who’s been rising in popularity.
That creature being Pengsoo.
South Korea’s non-BTS golden child, or should I say, golden goose, is a curious, eager, and slightly passive-aggressive penguin who debuted on KBS in 2019. This mascot also has a thriving channel on YouTube in which they showcase their adventures at KBS and beyond.
The rebellious streak that has come to define Chiitan’s legacy lives in Pengsoo as well, albeit much more toned down in terms of violence. Unlike the Japanese mascot, there is a language barrier at play while watching Pengsoo should you not understand Korean.
In the end, both mascots’ personalities and physical comedy are what stay with viewers.