NARA, Japan >> A white dog owned by an ancient prince was the inspiration for the mascot character Yukimaru, now the face of Oji, Japan. The character has attracted attention thanks to new technology that lets him talk and fly.
The Oji town government hopes this year will be the “year of Yukimaru,” as 2018 is also the Year of the Dog in the 12-year Chinese zodiac calendar. It hopes to raise his profile to a level comparable to that of Hachiko, the famously loyal dog memorialized by a statue in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Prince Shotoku (574-622) owned a dog named Yukimaru, which according to legend could understand human speech and read Buddhist scriptures. A statue of the dog stands on the premises of Oji’s Darumaji temple, which is known for its connections to Prince Shotoku, one of the first proponents of Buddhism in Japan and a regent.
Yukimaru the mascot was born in 2013. He wears an eboshi cap and carries in his paw a shaku baton, items that were fashionable for aristocrats in ancient Japan. The canine character placed 11th in the 2014 Yurukyara Grand Prix, an annual popularity contest of characters representing local governments and other entities. The character inspired the creation of more than 50 kinds of stuffed toys and other merchandise featuring his likeness.
In February last year, Yukimaru was converted into a drone in which his four paws move to look as if he’s walking in the sky. A YouTube video of the drone won praise from many viewers, who said he was “super cool” or “cute.” The video has been played more than 200,000 times.
Last summer, Knowledge Capital, an art facility in the Grand Front Osaka commercial complex in Osaka, launched a service in which visitors can operate the drone in virtual reality as a screen projects illustrations and images of Oji tourist locations.
“The drone moves left and right. It’s fun, like a game,” said Yuichi Sasaki, a 25-year-old company employee from Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. “I’d also like to visit Oji.”
Yukimaru paw prints can be seen along a roughly 3,300-foot route that guides visitors from JR Oji Station to Darumaji temple. A 6-foot statue of Yukimaru stands at the station for a visitor photo opp. Its decorations change every month.
The temple also added a statue of Yukimaru in December and began offering visitors a set of stamp marks and signatures featuring the character in January.
“We hope the character breaks through this year ahead of 2021, when we will mark 1,400 years since the death of Prince Shotoku,” a town official said.