Japan's love mascots (known as "yuru" or "gentle" characters) has been well documented, evening making its way onto Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, but it seems that the Land of the Rising Sun is now extending its mascot frenzy overseas!

The Yuru Character Grand Prix is an annual contest in Japan that selects the most popular prefectural mascot character in Japan. Each prefecture is represented by its own (and often adorable) mascot, who usually sports characteristics that embody things that their prefecture is famous for. The most notable of these mascots is perhaps Kumamon, representative of Kumamoto Prefecture and the 2011 Yuru Character Grand Prix champion. Ever since his Grand Prix win, the loveable bear has boomed in popularity nationwide, with his merchandise being enjoyed well beyond his home of Kumamoto.

Once again this year, the mascots will do battle until a champion is crowned. However, it's an international affair--with a cast of representatives from foreign countries joining the Grand Prix! Below is an introduction to the foreign contestants, complete with a picture and profile. Let's see if you can find one to rally behind!

1. Taiwonder! (Taiwan)


Source: yurugp

Our first contestant is from Taiwan. Taiwonder sports bananas, palm trees, and orchids on his head, while wearing the proud letters "TAIWAN" on his back. His short legs (like a peninsula) are his special feature. "Everyone cheer for Taiwan!"

2. Shalom-chan! (Israel)


Source: yurugp

A female parrot by the name of Shalom, which is the Hebrew word for "Hello", and also "Peace." She holds the national emblem of an olive branch of peace, along with a Star of David tiara. She's going to try her best as a goodwill ambassador.

3. Honuppi! (Hawaii, U.S.A.)


Source: yurugp

I'm Honuppi! I'm using my special hula dance as the leader of the "Organization for the promotion of Hawaiian Tourism" group to do P.R. work! I'm relying on your spirit, so everyone cheer for meeeeee!

4. Lupita! (Mexico)


Source: yurugp

I'm Lupita the axolotl. I live in Mexico's World Heritage Site--Xochimilco. Some guy from my town went to Japan to be in a TV Commercial. I heard in Japan they call us oopa loopas, is that true? So hey, my old friends Pepe, Pancho, and I made an organization for the preservation of Xochimilco. We wanna take back the beautiful Xochimilco of old! Japan and Mexico have been friends for 400 years, they say. Japan is far away, but let's make sure and exchange amigos between countries!

5. A-Kue! (Taiwan)


Source: yurugp

A-Kue is a cute elementary school student chosen by Time Magazine in 2003 as an Asian Hero during a big boom on the internet in Taiwan. He hails from Taiwan's Spring Town, and has a lot of unique and fun friends and family, with lots of happening around them everyday! "A-Kue" is a story that unfolds with many innocent and lovable characters!

6. Open-chan! (Taiwan)


Source: yurugp

Nihao! I'm Open-chan, the space dog from Taiwan! Just like my name says, I'm very open and leisurely! I came to see Please-chan in Japan, but I want to know more about the country and have decided to stay here for a while! I also want to teach Japanese people about Taiwan!

7. BIG LINCOLN! (Illinois, U.S.A.)


Source: yurugp

I've come from Illinois in America, and I aim to be a mascot of the people, by the people, and for the people in Japan! I may have a face like this, but I'd like a gentle friendship with the kind-hearted people of Japan, and hope you can someday enjoy my hometown.

8. Shiprin(A combination of "Ship" and "Pudding" in Japanese--no country in particular, he represents the Peaceboat)!


Source: yurugp

A boat fairy from far across the sea. Right now Shiprin lives in his boat, the Ocean Dream, sailing across the world and has a hobby of visiting the world's seaports. His favorite word is "wheel." His favorite food is pudding. Wheel you cheer him on?

9. Kantan! (New Zealand)


Source: yurugp

A local character for Canterbury, New Zealand. Kantan the Canterbunny and his cute friend Kurara, together they're local characters that get rebuild the Christchurch area and get everyone excited!

10. Bantora! (Bangladesh)


Source: yurugp

A character promoting business and international exchange between Japan and it's friendly country Bangladesh. His slogan is "Look Bangla, appeal Japan!" (Editors note: Some Japanese English here.) The original image is based on a fairy tale-style drawing by Hossein. He's looking for his friend Shiro-kun and exploring Japan.

11. Billy-kun! (Gold Coast, Australia)


Source: yurugp

Billy-kun is a character from Australia's Gold Coast. On the Gold Coast, which extends for over 40 kilometers with clear blue skies, white sand beaches, and World Heritage rainforests, you can enjoy a lot of activities, as well as Australian beef and sea food, while shopping for natural cosmetics and UGGs. What's more, every April there is the pop culture expo "supanova" and well as the Gold Coast Marathon in July. Billy-Kun is waiting for you to come and have fun at that Gold Coast!

By - grape Japan editorial staff.