It was at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble that a mascot made its debut. Schuss was a little man on skis, painted in the colours of the French flag, created by Aline Lafargue. However, it was not called a mascot by then and an official one was used four years later at the Munich 1972 Summer Games. Waldi, a dachshund dog was designed by Elena Winschermann three years before the event. The Paralympic Games didn’t have an own mascot materialised until 1980 as they were not officially branded. The following years, each Games had different mascots and only from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games on, they have been represented together.
Olympic mascots are fictional characters, usually resembling an animal typical for the host city or region or human figures who represent the local culture. They are particularly important in the promotion of the Games and meant to please a wide range of people, including the younger generations.
The Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee began the selection of the mascots roughly three years prior to the Games. From 1 to 14 August 2017, design proposals could be made by principally everyone who was at least 18 years old as of 1 April 2017 and who either has Japanese nationality or is holder of a Japanese residence card. All in all, 2,042 applications were received; 1,753 of which answered the format criteria. In September 2017, specialists from different involved companies decided if the proposed designs and profiles would be suitable for elementary school children. 98 entries made it to the next stage. Then, members of the Mascot Selection Panel examined whether the remaining designs reflected the spirit of the Tōkyō 2020 Games Vision and the values of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. 16 proposals made it through. On 13 October 2017, the Mascot Selection Panel began the selection of the final three candidates. From 11 December 2017 to 22 February 2018, 205,755 classes from 16,769 elementary schools in Japan and Japanese schools abroad were asked to vote for their favourite set. The winning design, chosen by 109,041 classes was announced on 28 February 2018. It is to mention that the votes decreased proportionally to the order of the presentation: 109,041 for Pair A, 61,423 for Pair B and 35,291 for Pair C.
From the end of April to the end of May 2018, the mascot naming was developed based on questionnaires given to the children who had participated in the voting and an interview with the winning design creator Taniguchi Ryo. For each character, 30 proposals were made. Finally, the names Miraitowa (Olympics) and Someity (Paralympics) were unveiled on 22 July 2018. A special naming ceremony was held on the occasion. Although written in katakana, Miraitowa is based on the Japanese word mirai (future) and towa (eternity), whereas Someity comes from someiyoshino, a popular cherry blossom variety and echoes with the English “so mighty”.
One day after the announcement of the names, and two years and one day before the opening of the sporting event, the first official licensed 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games shop opened inside major consumer electronics retailer BicCamera Shinjuku West. At that time, about 700 articles, such as pins, t-shirts, mugs, booklets, and stuffed toys were for sale. In summer 2019, another 445 officially licensed items got released, including products featuring the “1 Year to Go!” logo and sports pictograms.
At present, the Organising Committee of the 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games has two further official retailers, one inside BicCamera Akasaka-Mitsuke and one at BicCamera Ikebukuro East, as well as an online shop. In addition, other merchandisers sell official licensed products.
The recently launched Olympic and Paralympic Licca-chan has particularly been hailed. The Japanese version of Barbie made its debut eight years after her American counterpart and therefore missed the 1964 Games by three years. The Tōkyō 2020 doll comes in two types, one is a blond girl wearing a blue yukata kimono (Olympics) whereas the other is brunette with a pink yukata (Paralympics). Licca-chan has marked different generations and is popular among children and adults. Being particularly favoured articles, the two dolls may help the mascots generate the expected ¥14 billion from licensing and merchandising.