Photo/IllutrationVisually impaired students at the Katsushika School for the Blind in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward feel resin models of Olympic and Paralympic mascot candidates to decide their favorite on Jan. 22. (Hiroko Saito)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

In helping to decide the mascot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, fifth-grader Haruto Otani felt a model of one of the three pairs of candidates designed on a "komainu" (lion-dog guard).

“It is bumpy," Haruto, 11, noted. "Where are the arms? What is on the back? A cape?”

Haruto, who lost his vision when he was 3 due to eye cancer, asked his teacher many questions while touching the six figurines.

On Jan. 22, Haruto was among the fifth-graders at the Tokyo Metropolitan Katsushika School for the Blind in Katsushika Ward examining 3-D models of mascot candidates for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

They were made of resin and small enough to fit in the students’ palms.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games decided to choose the mascot through voting by elementary school students across the nation. One class each has a vote and their choice must be discussed in the classroom.

The Candidate A mascots both bear checkered patterns inspired by the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic emblems.

The Candidate B Olympic mascot is inspired by a "maneki-neko" beckoning cat and a divine fox, while the Paralympic mascot is created in the style of a komainu statue found in Shinto shrines.

As for Candidate C, the Olympic mascot features a fox, while the Paralympic mascot is inspired by a “tanuki” raccoon dog.

Haruto decided that candidates B and C are “good choices” because they are quintessential Japanese, as he has felt komainu at shrines, and raccoons and foxes often appear in the old folk tales that he has read in Braille.

Hikari Orihara, 11, is amblyopic, and she carefully examined the pictures by thrusting her face against it. Even though she can see them vaguely, she said touching the models “were helpful to understand” the design.

According to the organizing committee, when it decided to conduct the nationwide vote by elementary school students for the Olympic mascots, some suggested to provide appropriate aids for the visually impaired. They produced figurine models and sent a set of six each to prefectural education boards to circulate them where needed.

“I hope such consideration that allows participation of all kinds of people will be the norm in different levels of society,” said Naoto Yamagishi, the principal of the school for the blind.

On Jan. 25, another Tokyo-run school for special needs education in Minato Ward decided on which pair of mascots to vote for.

“We will decide on one as a class,” a teacher explained to students with intellectual disabilities.

The teacher took time explaining the design of the three sets of mascot candidates, using a large card with pictures.

Some students prefer pictures, letters and gestures to words expressed verbally. The teachers prepared cards of mascots to pick one for those who are not good at expressing their thoughts with words. The choice as a class was decided by a majority vote.

Even though some students do not understand what the Olympics or Paralympics are, school Principal Kazuo Yoneya believes experiencing various things relating to the Olympic Games, including the mascot vote, will “enrich their futures.”

Voting ends Feb. 22, and the winner is scheduled to be announced Feb. 28. There are about 21,200 eligible schools in Japan. Of those, 14,727 schools have registered to vote as of Jan. 29.