A Japanese prison creates a mascot in an attempt to dispel its forbidding image and be seen as a place of rehabilitation.
Officials at a prison in Japan have created a life-size mascot to help people connect with inmates.
Asahikawa Prison in the north of the country is too often thought of as a dark place with imposing grey walls, according to officials.
They hope Katakkuri-chan, a 6ft 6in humanoid with a square face and an enormous purple flower for hair, will help people see the prison as a place of rehabilitation.
One official said: “Prisons have the image of being isolated places that have no contact with the rest of society and are surrounded by imposing grey walls.
“We made the character to change the image into that of a facility open to society and supported by society.
“Of course, prisons are for people who have committed crimes and people tend to consider them unwelcome in their neighbourhood.
“But society has to play its part in supporting the rehabilitation of people who have served their time.”
Katakkuri-chan, which has a male and a female incarnation and wears the uniform of a prison warden, made its debut at a weekend fair at the prison, 560 miles north of Tokyo.
The annual event drew nearly 1,700 people, up from 1,200 last year, partly thanks to the character, which greeted visitors and played with children, prison officials said.
Visitors were also able to buy handicrafts made by inmates, ranging from barbecue parts to TV stands and aprons.
The mascot’s oversized hair is inspired by the dogtooth violet – katakuri – which blooms on a mountain near the prison.
Life-size mascots are very popular in Japan and are often used to represent regions or towns and to promote locally famous foods, animals and industries.