Sentokun --

Ever since his unveiling in February, Sento-kun, the official mascot character for the Commemorative Events of the 1,300th Anniversary of the Nara-Heijokyo Capital, has garnered widespread criticism from the media, religious groups and the blogosphere. A Buddhist child monk with a rack of deer antlers sprouting from his head, Sento-kun is supposed to evoke the image of Nara's rich Buddhist history and the wild (but tame) deer that roam freely around town. But some citizens have expressed anger at officials for shutting them out of the decision-making process and wasting 5 million yen (about $50,000) of taxpayer money on an ugly mascot, and some Buddhist groups are reportedly upset with the inappropriate use of a religious image.

In response to the fiasco, a group of Nara-area designers called the "Creators Forum Yamato" have voluntarily organized an independent design contest to come up with a mascot that more closely represents the will of the people and the true spirit of Nara. After receiving 619 submissions from the general public (some from as far away as New York and Paris), organizers have narrowed the pool to 30 candidates and are encouraging the public to vote online.

Here are the candidates on the ballot...

Nara character ballot --

To vote, go to the online ballot, select the button under your favorite character, and hit the confirmation button at the bottom of the screen. Then hit the confirmation button on the next screen. The polls are open until May 25. As of this writing, nearly 15,000 ballots have been cast.

As a representative of the citizens of Nara prefecture, the winning mascot will work side-by-side with Sento-kun to make the anniversary event a success.

The Commemorative Events of the 1,300th Anniversary of Nara Heijokyo Capital will be held in Nara prefecture in 2010 to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Heijokyo (now known as Nara), the capital of Japan from 710 to 784 A.D. The large-scale, year-long international project is expected to attract 15 million visitors.

[Vote here]

UPDATE: The votes are in and the winner is Manto-kun (#8).