In the early to late 2000s there was an explosion of cartoon mascots in Japan known as Yuru Kyara (ゆるキャラ). This can be translated literally as loose characters. Yuru Kyara are simple and cute — the kind of cartoon character a child could draw.
Yuru Kyara boomed in the 2000s. Suddenly every Japanese tourist attraction large and small had one. The Japanese media got interested and a handful of local cartoon characters shot to national fame. There were Yuru Kyara Matsuri (loose character festivals) where characters from all over Japan could compete.
With all this cutest going around there was sure to be trouble. Local governments started accusing each other of copying each other's designs.
Other controversies erupted when some regions started paying big money to professional artists and advertising agencies to develop characters. The original spirit of Yuru Kyara was that local residents designed the characters (usually a contest was held).
Other Yuru Kyara were rejected by local residents because they were ugly or creepy. For example, Nara's Sento-kun generated national publicity for being the creepiest Yuru Kyara in the country.