Olympic Mascots Proving Popular With Visitors
By Eric Talmadge
Wednesday, February 18, 1998; 2:43 p.m. EST
"It was almost pathetic,'' shopkeeper Yasushi Kurosawa said as he fondled one of four stuffed animals on display with the usual purses and bags in his show window.
Snowlets, the official owl-like mascots of the Nagano Olympics, are supposed to symbolize peace, harmony with nature, goodwill toward men. But on the streets of Nagano these days, people will just about kill to get one.
"We never expected the demand to be this high,'' said Yukiharu Shibata, spokesman for San Arrow, the Tokyo-based company that manufactured the toys. "Until the games actually got started, there didn't seem to be much interest in the Olympics.''
Shibata said his company has had 500,000 of the toys made in Indonesia in the past two years. Virtually all of them have been sold in the Nagano area.
"From morning to night, our phones are ringing with people wanting more orders,'' he said.
But Shibata said demand is expected to drop off very quickly once the games are over. And with just a few days left until the closing ceremony, San Arrow isn't planning on making any more.
"Sorry,'' he said.
The Snowlets are Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki; two boys, two girls. The name derives from "snow,'' of course, and "let's,'' which, organizers explain, "calls on everyone to join in the fun.''
"It's good news that they have a very good popularity,'' organizing committee spokesman Ko Yamaguchi said Wednesday. He said they are a "very cute mascot.''
Snowlets' likenesses in Nagano grace everything from stationery to lunch boxes to ear muffs. The fuzzy foursome are also pictured on condoms distributed at the athletes' village.
But it's the stuffed version of the mascot that everyone seems to want.
"I got some of the little dolls last week,'' said Jonna Mendes, a member of the U.S. Alpine team. "They're not cheesy. They look like they were drawn by a kid. That's what's so cool about them.''
Isamu Shimizu, a salesman at Ito Eyeglasses, just off Nagano's main street, said five or six people come in every day with offers to buy the several Snowlets they have on display.
They aren't for sale, he said.
"It's really surprising, especially since the Snowlets were so unpopular until the games started,'' he said. "Maybe people are getting into it more now that the Japanese team is doing so well.''
That would seem to make sense.
The disappearance of the once ubiquitious stuffed toys seems to have occurred in the past few days, which coincides with Japan's gold medal count hitting an all-time high of four.
On Tuesday, Japan got its biggest victory of all a team ski jumping gold that the country is still rejoicing over.
So where can a Snowlet be found?
Even volunteers at a downtown information booth with a big sign saying "Need a question answered? Ask a local'' weren't up to that one.
"Forget it,'' said one young man. "They're gone.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
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