If there’s one thing Japan goes crazy for, it’s the charming mascots that could surely make anything—from municipalities to bigwig corporations to prisons—less daunting.

On Sunday, Sanomaru, the official mascot of Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture, was named the softest of them all and snuggled the top spot in the Yuru Kyara Grandprix 2013. Sanomaru beat more than 1,500 equally cuddly characters which represented other municipalities and corporations.

Wearing traditional clothes, a hakama style skirt and zori flip flops, with an upturned ramen noodle bowl on his head and potato fries for a sword, Sanomaru embodies the city’s culinary specialties: Sano-ramen noodles and potato fries with a special sauce.

Sanomaru was created to attract tourists to Sano, about 55 miles of Tokyo. The charming samurai also aims to promote unity among the three municipalities that joined forces in 2005.

The cuddly mascot has brought revenues worth an estimated 100 million yen into the city in 2012 through sales of 350 different character goods ranging from cellphone straps and badges to children’s books, a spokesman at the Sano City office said.

On top of that, Sanomaru makes about 60 appearances a month, earning a modest 5,000 yen ($50) fee each time.

“The foremost benefit of Sanomaru is the sense of togetherness in the city and the love for the city fostered through the project,” Tsutomu Ono said.

“Yuru-kyara,” or loosely translated as soft characters, have gained popularity in Japan to promote prefectures or firms—and sometimes even prisons. Kumamon, a rosy-cheeked black bear, has generated 29 billion ($285 million) for Kumamoto prefecture in Japan through sales of related goods since winning the contest in 2011.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Huffington Post