While the mascot selection process is certainly about having fun, it also serves as early education in critiquing design for young Japanese students. To guide kids, the organizing committee has set up a special website that reads very much like a design brief. The ideal mascot must be unique-looking, genial, social media-ready, good at “laughing and crying with spectators” and must “make the athletes smile.” Aside from greeting sports fans, the mascots will appear on promotional materials, websites and millions of pieces of licensed Olympic swag.

The Japanese have a discerning eye for mascots. Called “yuru-chara,” government agencies, businesses, and tourism boards regularly deploy the cute characters to deliver messages to the public. A “grand prix” of regional mascots is even held every year to crown the country’s most effective plush ambassador.

Although the Tokyo 2020 committee emphasized that only the opinion of school children will count, many adults couldn’t help but express their two cents about the mascots on social media.

The Tokyo games organizing committee hasn’t had the best luck with design competitions. They scrapped the original stadium design by the late Zaha Hadid and had to redo their official logo after allegations of plagiarism. Hopefully, the school-organized design referendums will go smoother.

The winning mascot will be unveiled on February 28. Its name will be determined by adults in the organizing committee.

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