Koronon, a giant pink cat believed to help Japanese citizens beat the coronavirus, roams the streets of Tokyo’s busiest neighborhoods. Similar to Sanrio’s Hello Kitty, the mask-wearing cat, whose name loosely means “no corona,” promotes social distancing among citizens and distributes free masks, reports Bailey Berg for Atlas Obscura.
First discovered in September 2020, Koronon was founded by Alpha Co., a temporary employment and event promotion agency that wanted to help contain the spread of the virus. With the company unable to develop a vaccine, they hope Koronon will do their part to slow the spread and put a smile on the citizens they encounter, a company representative Sophie-Claire Hoeller told Insider in November 2020.
Koronon’s preferred weapons to fight the coronavirus are a purple heart-shaped shield that reads “Koronon,” a transparent face shield that reads “Stay healthy and safe,” and a face mask, Insider reports. The anti-coronavirus mascot has also crossed out the phrase “Covid-19” with a red X on its stomach and serves as a visible reminder to practice hand hygiene and wear masks, reports Atlas Obscura. While central Tokyo has not fully reopened, citizens are often seen on the street interacting with Koronon and other mascots.
Mascots are an important part of Japanese culture. In other countries, mascots are limited to amusement parks and sporting events, but Japan has a mascot for every city, business, event, local export, and jurisdiction, reports Atlas Obscura. A website lists 3,500 mascots nationwide based on elements of Japanese folklore, anime, manga and video games. For example, Saiyou-kun, a rhinoceros in a suit with anime eyes, the mascot of the Tokyo Foundation for Employment Services, and Gansho-kun, a walking lump of coal with neglected buildings on his head, represent Gunkanjima, a small abandoned mining island off the coast from Nagasaki, via Atlas Obscura.
Many mascots that existed before the pandemic were repurposed to educate the public about the virus. Now they’re depicted on signs reminding people of social distance and wearing masks when interacting with people.
“Mascots help cut the edge when dark and serious matters are discussed,” Chris Carlier, who has been documenting Japan’s mascots on Mondo Mascots social media account for nearly a decade, told Atlas Obscura.
Here is the mask I got from Koronon, the anti-coronavirus cat. pic.twitter.com/4yb2V7SKWJ
– Mondo mascot (@mondomascots) September 6, 2020
While Koronon is the first pandemic-specific mascot, others have emerged to fight Covid-19. Shinjuku Awawa is a giant soap bubble that reminds citizens to wash their hands properly. Quaran is an official mascot of the Japanese Ministry of Health, reminding people to self-isolate and quarantine. Amabie, a mascot that was first introduced in 1846 and resembles a mermaid, helps heal people of disease and ward off epidemics, Federica Macotta reported for Wired in November 2020.
Although the mascots are a visible part of the local Japanese government’s efforts to contain Covid-19, it’s difficult to quantify its impact as they spread awareness and social distancing rules in areas that already follow them, explains Atlas Obscura .
Those interested in meeting Koronon can check 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 and talk about containing the spread of Covid-19.