Kumamon leaps into national phenomenon  勢いとまらぬ「くまモン」―今や国民的キャラクターに―


  The surging popularity of Kumamon, the black bear mascot promoting rural Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan, looks to be never-ending. Barely a month after welcoming the emperor and empress to the “Kumamon Exhibition” held in his prefecture in October, he flew to the United States with Governor Ikuo Kabashima to give a special lecture on “political economics of Kumamon” at Harvard University. According to a survey by search engine management firm Business Search Technologies Corp., Kumamon was a runaway winner in terms of current market value (calculated from the number of followers of blog sites like Twitter) as of March 2013, taking a seven-fold lead over runner-up Chi-Ba+Kun, the mascot of Chiba Prefecture. Kumamon beat Sazae-San to place 18th in a “character and children market survey” conducted in September by rating company Video Research Ltd. His performance was remarkable given that it was his debut in the survey, which also covered other famed characters like Doraemon and Mickey Mouse. These prove that Kumamon is steadily building his status as a national celebrity.





Birth of Kumamon/くまモンの誕生


  Kumamon was created just before the Kyushu Shinkansen opened in March 2010. When the bullet train plan was unveiled, a sense of crisis prevailed among local people that the capital of Kumamoto might degrade into a mere way station for sightseeing since it was not designated as a terminal. Their anxiety was all the greater because Kumamoto was less well-known than six other prefectures in Kyushu. This prompted the prefectural government in November 2006 to launch its “Kansai Strategy Council” aimed to promote its charms among potential tourists in the Kansai and Chugoku districts. Dramatist Kundo Koyama, who was named adviser for the council’s Shinkansen business project, advocated what he called a "Kumamoto Surprise" movement in which local residents would find their daily surprises and promote them in other prefectures so that their prefecture’s charms could be rediscovered. Kumamon was devised by art director Manabu Mizuno as a mascot to give a push to the movement.





  After kicking off his official duty by visiting various tourist spots in Kumamoto and Osaka, Kumamon made a full use of radio programs and Internet blog sites such as Twitter and Facebook to promote the campaign. As a result, he yielded 640 million yen in terms of advertising rate in 2010, according to a calculation by the Kumamoto prefectural government. In November 2012, his popularity helped Kumamoto rank second after Osaka in the number of official e-mail magazine subscribers.





National phenomenon/全国区の人気者へ


  Kumamon was originally intended to promote Kumamoto ahead of the opening of the Kyusyu Shinkansen. But as his popularity kept growing, he began to be used to publicize all Kumamoto brands as the prefecture’s unified mascot. The sphere of his activity thus spread from the Kansai area to the whole country including the Kanto region. He also went abroad, making business trips so far to Shanghai, Taipei, Boston, etc. He was featured in a front-page article in the U.S. newspaper Wall Street Journal on December 26, 2012. Thanks to his crisscross activity, Kumamon won his first title of Japan’s most popular mascot in the "Yuru-kyara (loose) Characters Grand Prix 2011".





(The Latter Part/後半へ)