Japanese Mascot Becomes a Celebrity

If I saw somebody walking around in a fur suit here in the US, I’d assume that either they’re a college football mascot or a furry. In Japan though, mascots are much more than glorified cheerleaders or sexual deviants.

While people in fur suits are rarely seen outside of Disneyland or college stadiums in the US, mascots in Japan are pretty much everywhere. They’re instrumental in promoting tourism or giving a cute face to an organization.

Virtually every town, city, municipal service, company, sports team, and rail line in Japan has its own mascot. There’s even a mascot school in Tokyo to teach aspiring mascots the skills of the trade.

With so many mascots, you might think that they all become indistinguishable from each other. But in recent years, one mascot has towered over all the rest: Kumamon.

kumamon

Photo by shi_k

Originally created in 2010 as a mascot for a bullet train line in the city of Kumamoto, Kumamon is a bear (kuma means “bear” in Japanese), who’s become a runaway phenomenon in Japan.

He appears at all sorts of public events, ranging from festivals to TV appearances to meet-and-greets to promote Kumamoto. But somewhere down the line, Kumamon became bigger than Kumamoto.

City mascots are usually meant to promote tourism to its city of origin, but Kumamon’s popularity has completely eclipsed the city he was meant to represent.

In 2011, Kumamon came in first place in an online poll for mascot of the year, beating out a giant bird, and a circle with legs. Stiff competition!

Kumamon’s immense popularity has meant that his face has been stuck on anything with a flat surface. The Japanese are fantastic at marketing themselves and, around Kumamoto especially, Kumamon is everywhere.

There are Kumamon stickers, Kumamon buttons; Kumamon candy, keychains, and bags. And if you love Kumamon enough, you can even get a gravestone with his cheery face on it.

kumamon-grave

Photo by Joewithay

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kumamon merchandise has sold over $30 million since his inception.

Kumamon’s immense popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed overseas, either. In the West, Kumamon’s become a minor internet meme:

kumamon-satan

Like all Japanese fads, Kumamon’s popularity will eventually come to an end. Manufacturers will run out of products to slap Kumamon’s likeness onto, and the big black bear will join Sugi-chan and other figures of Japanese pop culture irrelevance.

But until that time comes, I’m sure that Kumamon’s popularity will be milked for all it’s worth. And hey, maybe after his career in Japan, he can moonlight as a football mascot in America.

  • DAVIDPD

    Gimme Dat Shrine.

  • paulalabuddhada

    Neat article!:))

    Just last year the school opened up? Or 1985? (the article linked here says it was founded in 1985)

    Thanks!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Oops, you’re right! Thanks for catching that.

  • Tora.Silver

    When I scrolled down to that first picture, I managed a simultaneous spit-take/scream.

  • HorrorChan

    I did not expect “for the glory of Satan” pic to pop up but I sure was thinking about it when I saw his face. Now I know where this cute fella came from.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I really don’t get it. The mascot isn’t new. I didn’t like it when I saw it back then when visiting Kyushu and I still don’t particularly like it. There are SO MANY awesome mascots in Japan, so I really don’t get why this one became so popular!

    It’s really annoying. No matter where I’m traveling, Kumamon pops up in the souvenir shops.

    But like you said its pouplarity probably (hopefully!!) won’t last too long.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Well, having a lot of competition is different from having good competition. For example, circle with legs.

    CIRCLE WITH LEGS. IT CAME THIRD.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    *LOL* That’s true.
    But there really are some great ones. I love the ones of Himeji and Hikone!
    And many of the local, less known ones, are great, too! :)

  • Hannah

    I don’t know if he’ll ever necessarily go out of style. I’d be pretty happy to never see Kitty-chan or Evengelion again, but I don’t think that’ll happen.
    But speaking of Sugi-chan, my ~10 year-old boy students begged to be Team Sugi-chan today. haha If only we were allowed to quote Japanese; I was almost as sad as every time I’m not allowed to quote Cow Cow. :(

  • DeTo-13

    look into his eyes lol, that is a freaky mascot. If i lived in Kumamoto i would definitely peek through the window before answering the door with this guy on every corner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004154856854 Ayako Satou

    くまモン大好きღ

  • disqus_5pGpIVN9lV

    There is no way that furry mascot came from Satan. His spirit is not dead. There is not a froward unfriendly particle in that furry bear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christie.bradley3 Christie Bradley

    This is just fascinating. I had no idea there was such a thing as a school for mascots anywhere. One wonders what is taught there…how not to fall over is probably the first lesson…