TOKYO (AFP) - Blending its love of all things cute with its rich cultural heritage, Japan on Friday unveiled the mascots for the 2019 Rugby World Cup: a pair of pot-bellied lions.
With luxurious manes, short horns and faces that appear to be shaped like rugby balls, mascots "Ren" and "G" are inspired by "shishi," the mythical lion-like figure that features in Japan's new year celebrations and kabuki theatre.
"Ren", with a white mane, is the parent of child "G", whose mane is red, and the pair bounced up and down, trading high-fives and passing a rugby ball back and forth at a press conference in Tokyo.
The pair, chosen from among 50 candidates, "represent the culture of host Japan" and "convey the message that it would be the first World Cup in Japan and in Asia", said Shogo Miyata, an official from the 2019 organising committee.
They are the first mascots for a Rugby World Cup since 1999, and will be competing for attention with a plethora of cutesy mascots, which in Japan promote everything from local regions to prisons.
"Mascots are symbolic in Japan," said Rob Abernethy, executive director of the World Cup.
"The story behind our mascots will create connections, a bond between the Japanese people, rugby and its value," he said.
Japan will host the Rugby World Cup just a year before the 2020 Olympics.
Three sets of potential Olympic mascots are currently vying for the votes of Japanese schoolchildren, with the result expected to be announced next month.