Arama They Didn't

3:53 pm - 12/29/2012

The Mischievious Kumamon: The Life and Times of Japan’s Mascots

Kumamon, the mischievous black bear mascot, is not only the face of Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture; he’s also the face of a movement. No other “creature” captures the craze surrounding Japan’s mascot boom as the rosy-cheeked bear.

His name is a combination of two words: “Kuma” is short for Kumamoto and “Mon” represents the local dialect that uses that word for the standard Japanese word for “things,” or “mono.” The bear was created in March 2010 to draw in tourists ahead of the 2011 opening of a new bullet train stop in the capital city of the southern Japanese prefecture. His popularity surged after he won the title of Japan’s most popular mascot in an online poll last year. He didn’t partake in this year’s poll.

Riding on the wave of his popularity, Kumamon’s image was everywhere. His smiling face was on the packaging for the region’s rice or local snacks. Hisao Wakasugi, manager of the Kumamon promotional team, said the prefecture received 400 applications a month to put the bear’s image on various Kumamoto products after his victory last year.

The strategy paid off. There are already three books about Kumamon on store shelves with another four on the way. Kumamon-related goods generated more than ¥2.5 billion in sales last year, but Mr. Wakasugi said he expects that figure to double this year.

The prefecture has worked hard to preserve the image that Kumamon is more than a person in a suit. He was given the title of “sales manager” for the prefecture’s agricultural products. When asked who plays the role of Kumamon, Mr. Wakasugi responded curtly: “Kumamon is Kumamon. There is only one Kumamon. Don’t ask any details.”

But for every success story like Kumamon, there are dozens of mascots that fail to resonate initially. Take, for example, Mak-kun. The pine-cone shaped fairy of the red pine forest in Minamiminowa, a village in central Japan, came in last in the 2011 poll. However, through active promotion on Mak-kun’s blog and frequent appearances at events, the mascot rallied to place 48th out of 865 entries in this year’s online poll.

And just who plays Mak-kun? It could be you, if you can stand the conditions.

Takashi Fujisawa, who oversees Mak-kun, said he loans out the pine-cone outfit to whoever needs it for promotional events. He explains that the suit can be difficult to wear — especially in the summer. The rules are that whoever wears the mascot outfit must wear a long-sleeve shirt and wrap a towel around their neck to prevent staining the suit with sweat.

“We don’t last more than 30 minutes during the summer time,” he said.

Read the WSJ’s Page One story on Japan’s mascots here: Isn’t That Cute? In Japan, Cuddly Characters Compete

source, kumamon on tumblr, kumamon on youtube

ryrymini 29th-Dec-2012 10:44 pm (UTC)
love. kumamon is so perfect i just can't
(no subject) - Anonymous
liime_arix 30th-Dec-2012 12:08 am (UTC)
I love this video of him dancing to Chocolate Disco

blazingeternity 29th-Dec-2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
Can I just brag that I visited Kumamoto last year!? XD
Only been there for a few days but I really enjoyed it, it's a lovely, relaxed place with its own charm and stunning historical sites.
Didn't know about Kumamon beforehand though and asked my friend what kind of pedobear that was. Oops :3
raatkerani 30th-Dec-2012 12:41 am (UTC)
Kumamon is cuuute~!!
I mean, many of the mascots look weird, but Kumamon is just naturally cute... I didn't know that it's kind of new when I first saw it (Nov 2010) when I visited Kumamoto Jo.
rim1789 30th-Dec-2012 12:51 am (UTC)
So cute!
baka_tenshi 30th-Dec-2012 03:37 am (UTC)
kumamon kind of freaks me out.
liime_arix 30th-Dec-2012 03:56 am (UTC)
Like he seems like a creeper?
baka_tenshi 30th-Dec-2012 04:06 am (UTC)
like he seems ... scary and will probably do horrifying things to you while smiling. D:
liime_arix 30th-Dec-2012 04:14 am (UTC)
I totally get that sentiment D:
awkward_as_heck 30th-Dec-2012 09:55 am (UTC)
Yeah. Just something about smiling anthropomorphic characters in general gives me the shivers.
dearmisterecho 30th-Dec-2012 05:24 am (UTC)
I got my mom a Kumamon handkerchief for Xmas, she thought it was so cute so sending the article her way right now :D
atelierlune 30th-Dec-2012 05:37 am (UTC)
I misunderstood this post based on the first picture and believed Kumamon was some sort of internet meme of a bear mascot tied to ominous/intense things. I have this slight yet persistent urge to caption the bonfire with something inappropriate like WE ARE ALL GOING TO HELL or somesuch.
akillarian 30th-Dec-2012 06:01 am (UTC)
I had similar thought when I was saw the fire behind him.
bridgetothesky 30th-Dec-2012 02:24 pm (UTC)
kumamon is cutee in a non cutesy cute way. but i still like hikonyan better..

lol i havent seen mou chugakusei in a while. its sad its a doubleshot of fading sonzais lol
bear100 30th-Dec-2012 04:14 pm (UTC)
cute, but i think kumamon to me will always be the digimon one.
nakabibighani 30th-Dec-2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
the photo where kumamon is peeping from a window is cute and a bit creepy at the same time. i don't know why... thanks :)
minbbobbo 30th-Dec-2012 07:46 pm (UTC)
Hebergeur d'image
dori_liv 30th-Dec-2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
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