TOKYO (AFP) - From the country that brought you Godzilla, Hello Kitty and Pokemon, comes a hyperactive "pear fairy" with a love for heavy metal that has taken Japan by storm - and now plans to conquer the world.
Funassyi, a devil-may-care life-size fruit mascot that risks life and limb by performing eye-watering stunts, has just returned from a triumphant visit to New York and on Thursday threw down the gauntlet to rivals such as Kumamon, a tubby bear with whom it once had a punch-up on national television.
"I was a celebrity in New York - people were going crazy," the yellow blob told foreign reporters in Tokyo. "They're going to hang my picture in the Empire State Building, along with the Crown Prince and Yoko Ono."
The genderless Funassyi, famous for its high-pitched shrieking, jumping and violent gyrating, shot to fame as the unofficial mascot of Funabashi city, 20km east of Tokyo, after videos of the chubby prankster on a treadmill and taking a bath went viral.
"I'd like to help boost the Japanese economy," squeaked Funassyi, who used to turn up to official functions uninvited after being snubbed by city bigwigs. "You could call it 'Funanomics'."
"Next I want to break into Hollywood, like Mickey Mouse, Spiderman and the (Teenage Mutant Ninja) Turtles."
The head-banging Funassyi, who thrills legions of fans by dashing through fire as explosions go off and getting tossed around television studios by presenters, has muscled its way into a licensed character industry worth around US$30 billion (S$45 billion) a year.
"Japanese people like to root for the underdog," Funassyi said of its rapid rise since three years ago.
"I'm a one-pear act, a pear fairy with no agent. People saw me being rejected and started to show support for me. I still only charge about 1,000 pears an hour."
Funassyi's popularity is no mean feat given the ferocious competition among Japan's "yuru-kyara" (mascot characters). Creations such as Kumamon and Pokemon have become part of the country's cultural landscape, adorning everything from keychains to commercial airplanes.
Funassyi, which worships Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne, once came to blows with archrival Kumamon on live TV.
"I have tremendous respect for Kumamon as my senior," said Funassyi, a sunflower bobbing up and down on its head. "But he got on my nerves that night so I slapped him. We're friends again now."
Funassyi, who adds the suffix "-nasshi" - from the Japanese word for pear - to the end of each sentence, has a fan base in Taiwan, Hong Kong, London and now the United States.
"In Taiwan I've heard there are fake Funassyis walking about the streets," said the squidgy funster, before bursting into a chorus of Aerosmith's Walk This Way.
It niftily side-stepped a question about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's controversial plans to change the country's pacifist constitution, squealing: "Ooh no, I'm not getting into that! I'm for world peace."
Asked about the future and the risk of injury, Funassyi said: "I'd love to run with the bulls in Pamplona. I'm going to the South Pole next month. They're going to sink me in the South Pole. The things Japanese TV channels make me do. I'll probably turn into pear sherbert."