Kyara in Corona times

Introduction

Japanese popular culture is well known for its kyara, almost seen everywhere in Japan. They're cute mascot characters often representing cities, prefectures, companies and sometimes even prisons. Characterized by cute and simplistic designs, people often see them as the result of love for kawaii or cute things in Japanese popular culture.

However, these cute mascots do have a purpose, which explains why they're so widespread in Japan. To explain this reason we have to study the case of Kumamon, mascot of Kumamoto prefecture. This playful black bear took Japan by storm and immediately put its hometown on the map as a tourist destination for Japanese tourists, boosting economic activity and income in Kumamoto prefecture. Other cities and prefectures wanted to replicate this success of regional branding, even companies wanted to brand themselves this way. This kyara boom in Japan is thus the result of companies, cities and prefectures seeking economic growth in tourism.

Research question

In the spring of 2020, the spread of Covid-19 in Japan put a halt to tourism, with local and prefectural authorities urging Japanese citizens to stay inside. Foreign visitor numbers also declined, with their home countries going into lockdown one by one. As follows the economic reason of existence for these kyara disappeared. Therefore, the question rises how kyara are faring by with their main task gone.

How do kyara stay connected with their following by using Twitter? Are they still active, with tourism halted and events cancelled? Did they change their focus away from tourism and events? Is there still interaction between kyara and fans?

Methodology

Medium

As Twitter is a very accessible and user-friendly social media platform, it is most likely that it will be used by kyara to keep in touch with their audience. On the other hand, if the activity of certain accounts plummets during this period, this will not go unnoticed.

Various previous studies have shown that Twitter can be an excellent data source, because it contains a lot more information than visible to the eye. For example, we will examine the hashtags used by yuru kyara, regarding the Corona crisis. The information they retweet can also be valuable, even though not it is written by the kyara itself.

Tools

The tools we used to clean the data gathered from Twitter consist of Tags, Tableau Public and OpenRefine.

As our knowledge about Twitter API or Python was too limited for this research, we used Tags for gathering the twitter data of each account. Tags is a convenient tool if you want to acquire data like text, date and hour of posting, answers and retweets, etc. The only limit to Tags is the fact that it can only mine data up to 7 days. This is why we chose to limit our research to the period of 26th of april until the 3th of may.

OpenRefine served as our data cleaner, so we could clean up the data after taking it from Tags. First we filtered the used hashtags per kyara, using the regular expression:

value.replace(/(\s|\^)([\^\#]+)/,\'\')

and 'split multi-valued cells', so that each hashtag would be considered as a separate entity. We also wanted to analyse the interaction that kyara had with their fans, to do this we filtered the retweets and answers. By removing excess data and compiling all data into one big data list, information became easier to visualize via Tableau Public.

To visualize the topics kyara tweeted about in this period, we decided to cancel out the used hashtags and place them in their corresponding category. These categories made the big data less daunting and gave a more visible and workable result:

To examine the amount of retweets and answers per kyara we conducted a textual analysis of the cleaned data in OpenRefine.

In terms of the amount of tweets, retweets and answers to fans or other accounts (\@otheraccount) over the span of a week, we used Tableau Public to give us an easy visualization of the course of the numbers over time.

To see how frequent each kyara tweets, we visualized the amount of tweets per user over time (per day).

For the amount of retweets (RT) and '@'s', we followed the same method, but by using the columns we put up on OpenRefine. Because there was an inconsistency in the numbers shown by the graph with the big data set compared to the individual data sets, we decided to set up a graph using the data from each individual data set. We 'blended' the data sources and were able to able to display each result in one combined graph.

Findings

Tweet frequency

If we look to the graph below, kyara did not lose their public role during a period of Corona-lockdown measures. Remarkably only one kyara went off-radar, Ieyasu-kun, representative of Hamamatsu City (Shizuoka), stopped posting tweets since the peak of Corona (march 19th). Other kyara however remained active on Twitter, even though real life events are cancelled. Although some accounts post significantly more than others, with Kapal being able to post more than 70 tweets a day, this forms a stark contrast with others like Unarikun or Gunmachan, often only posting just one tweet a day.

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(Direct link Tableau Public)

Hashtag usage

As seen on the overhead chart, we divided the different hashtags we obtained into five groups according to their topic: corona, kyara, home activities, prefecture/city and others. When we looked at it in general (all kyara's together) two topics clearly stood out: the kyara and corona-related topics. The kyara topics are mostly about self promotion and interaction with other kyara and fans. While corona topics variate from instigation to stay at home, work from home or keep social distance. Home activities contributed for a smaller part, but if we consider that they also are a part of the corona-crisis then the corona part is by far the biggest, outranking the prefecture/city topic that is considered being the most important contribution of kyara in ordinary times.

When we look at the hashtags per kyara, we see that, as stated before, some kyara tweet more than others and also use more hashtags. But, the hashtags from Kapal, who tweets the most, are mostly not related to the corona crisis. He does use some trending hashtags such as #うちで過ごそう but the most recurrent ones are #カパルん堂 and #カパル, so Kapal seems more preoccupied by self-promotion than by the corona-crisis even though he changed his profile picture to him wearing a mask. Barysan and Shinjōkun also don't mention the corona-crisis in their hashtags. Gunmachan on the other hand uses just two hashtags, but they are both related to the corona-crisis. Kumamon, Unarikun, Sanomaru and Arukuma use more hashtags, most of them related to the corona-crisis.

Retweets and responses results

If we look at responses and retweets as a whole, kyara weren't really active in responding to fans and retweeting information. Only 5 of the 8 characters retweeted and/or responded during the period of our research. The most active in this area was Kapal, we can conclude that he keeps in touch with lots of his fans, using lots of smileys in the progress. Kapal also retweeted information about the Coronavirus, even though he didn't tweet much about corona himself. Moreover, he retweeted a lot of information about his city, coming events and his own webshop, his job attracting tourism to Shiki, Saitama prefecture, didn't stop.

Kumamon, on the other hand, didn't retweet anything but answered a lot of messages from fans, the majority of the answers were birthday wishes to his fans. Although physical contact got lost, virtual contact kept in place during this difficult time.

Other kyara didn't retweet or respond that much, but this can be explained by their overall lower activity on Twitter compared to Kapal or Kumamon. The topic which they were active around, was primarily comforting their fans during this different and hard time at home.

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(Direct link Tableau Public)

Conclusion

Even though the usual schedule of yuru kyara is disturbed, most of them remain active on twitter, maintaining their role of being supportive, cheerful characters. This can be seen in their responses to their fans, encouraging them to keep their head high in these unpredictable times. Although real life events are cancelled, the kyara organize (live) videos instead, in order to keep their audience entertained.

Some kyara decide not to talk to much about the topic of corona, while others share and/or promote the advice around social distancing or wearing face masks. Kyara that don't mention the corona crisis, mainly stay occupied with economical promotion of themselves and/or their city/prefecture or their regular routines of posting.

References