The final contest to choose Japan's best "yuru-kyara," as cuddly mascots such as internationally recognized Kumamon are known, was staged Saturday with 691 contenders.

This year's winner of the competition, which is taking place in Takizawa in the northeastern prefecture of Iwate, will be decided Sunday by votes from audience members and those cast online.

Photo taken Oct. 3, 2020 shows a "yuru-kyara" contest opened in Takizawa, Iwate Prefecture. (Kyodo)

The annual event aimed at boosting regional economies began in 2011, with Kumamoto Prefecture's Kumamon black bear-like mascot winning the inaugural competition.

Last year, products bearing the image of Kumamon racked up sales of at least 157.9 billion yen ($1.5 billion), marking yet another record.

Over the years, mascots entered in the competition have represented prefectures, cities, towns and companies. The number of entries swelled to 1,727 in 2015, up from 349 when the event began.

In recent years, however, the competition has come in for criticism over "organized votes" and overheated campaigns to choose the winner.

Still, the venue of this year's event was packed with families. "There are too many cute characters. It's difficult to know which to choose," said Sora Hosoda, a 7-year-old elementary school pupil, as she had her photo taken with some of the mascots.