Who is Kumamon?

ByJustin Hanus
Sep 28, 2022

Who is Kumamon?

All the prefectures in Japan have mascots, but Kumamon — the one from Kumamoto — is special. As well as being popular throughout Japan, he’s known worldwide. Something about this black bear has captured the hearts of people around the globe.

The Origins of Kumamon

Kumamon came into existence in 2010 as an effort to bring tourists to the newly-opened Kyushu Shinkansen high-speed rail line. His name means “person from Kumamoto” in the local dialect.

Assigned the position of Happiness Manager of Kumamoto by the prefectural governor, Kumamon’s role is to share the happiness he finds around him. He is also the sales manager of the prefecture, meaning he needs to promote tourism and the agricultural products of Kumamoto.

What Makes Kumamon Different?

When Kumamon made his first appearance, many other mascots were also coming onto the scene — but he managed to stand out. Just a little over a year after he debuted, he received the most votes in a national survey for the best mascot.

It’s not just Kumamon’s wide, staring eyes, red cheeks, and smile that makes him unique, it’s his personality. His public relations appearances are less contrived than many other mascots, which has helped him feel more genuine. For instance, he has frequently surprised attendees by turning up at events without warning. Furthermore, whereas other mascots would never venture out of their own prefectures, Kumamon has gone to places as far afield as Paris and Honolulu.

Although Kumamon is popular with people of all ages, he has a particular connection with children. After the 2016 earthquake in Kumamoto, he left the public eye for three weeks out of respect for the victims. When he returned, his first visits were to children at sites that were hardest hit by the earthquake. To date, he continues traveling around the country to visit areas affected by natural disasters to lend his support to their cause.

Economic Impact

Kumamon generated 875.8 billion yen in merchandise sales between 2011 and 2019. Recipients of this revenue were anyone who used Kumamon’s image — in Kumamoto, anyone can have usage rights provided their products promote goods or services from the prefecture. Since 2018, this has even included foreign businesses.

Where to See Kumamon

When Kumamon is not on the road, he tends to be at his office in Kumamon Square, near Kumamoto Castle. Every weekday when he’s at his office, he holds interactions with visitors and puts on a performance such as dancing on a stage. You’ll need to check his calendar to find out when he’s available to meet.

You can also visit Kumamon Square even when Kumamon is not making an appearance. The office displays photos showing everywhere Kumamon has been in more than 20 countries, and there’s a shop selling Kumamon merchandise and regional products.

Of all the mascots in Japan, Kumamon is one you should see if you have the chance due to his vast national (and international) importance. If you’re in Kumamoto, pay him a visit.

Box Repsol, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Justin Hanus editor

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