Kumamon Japans Loved Mascot In Kumamoto Prefecture

Kumamon is a beloved cartoon bear in Japan who is the mascot for the Kumamoto prefecture. His creation came about in 2010 to encourage visitors to come to the Kumamoto prefecture.

When it comes to tourism there are many beautiful places in the world that are not very well known. However, tourism boards aim to rectify this to ensure that as many tourists as possible from all over the world, and even within a country itself, are encouraged to visit new locales.

There are many different ways that governments and tourist boards encourage people to visit, enjoy the place and also increase spending. Some of these include advertising, online campaigns, and photographs of local attractions and events.

However, when the Kumamoto prefecture in Japan decided it wanted to increase tourism it created its own mascot.

Kumamon, black bear mascot on the floor of the main train station

What does Kumamon look like?

Kumamon is a big black bear with bright red round cheeks, large white eyes, raised white eyebrows, and cute ears atop his head.

On top of his cute appearance, Kumamon was also given a personality, which is cute and serves to make him adorable in the eyes of the public. He also gestures expressively making him very easily recognizable and well-known.

Kumamon Figurines

Kumamon was designed by Mizuno Manabu and was chosen by the writer Koyama Kundō to create a character for the marketing scheme.

Initially, there were only modest expectations placed on Manabu as the hope was simply to boost tourism and exposure, but thanks to the fantastic design efforts of Manabu, Kumamon has become a global icon.

The reason for this success was because Manabu was originally only asked to come up with an emblem to represent the prefecture, but of his own accord, decided to ever so slightly change the project’s mission and created a character with personality.

The creation of Kumamon

Kumamon the bear mascot of the Kumamoto prefecture came about in 2010 on the authority of the prefectural government.

The push behind this was the opening of the Kyushu Shinkansen line, which is a high-speed train line that was an extension of the Sanyo Shinkansen line. 

Luckily for the government, the cute mascot Kumamon was a hit and became widely popular both with people in Japan and overseas.

In fact, he became so popular that a 2011 survey of mascots ranked him as one of the most popular mascots in the country with more than 288,000 people voting.

Kumamoto City Official Website

Kumamoto City

Not only has he been used to promote the Kumamoto prefecture but also to boost sales as merchandise bearing his likeness had amounted to more than $120 million in the first six months of 2012 alone, having previously drawn in $26 million in all of 2011. In keeping with his success, he still remains a popular figure today.

What was the economic impact?

Obviously, the creation of Kumamon was to increase tourism and hence spending in the area, boosting the economy. With the success of the mascot, the economic success off of the back of the figure is significant.

The mascot has generated a grand total of $1.2 billion in revenue in just two years – a great success for the region.

This comes from both merchandising as well as tourism and general spending. In addition to this huge sum of money, Kumamon has been worth $90 million in advertising. 

Kumamon market and festival in Kumamoto city

The merchandise bearing Kumamon’s face has sold a grand total of $255 million worth of products in 2012, which is almost eight times the amount reached in 2011.

Figures from the Bank of Japan estimated that the mascot has generated a total of ¥123.2 billion in a two-year period from 2011.

Although no money has been claimed in royalties, the prefecture of Kumamoto does actually have the copyright of Kumamon.

Kumamon Statue At The Entrance Of A Local Shop In Kumamoto

Claiming royalties on the character was never a part of the government’s plan to promote the region, and is certainly not in the spirit of the character.

By allowing everyone to use the figure as they wish (now within reason) Kumamon has had a very large economic impact.

What is Kumamon so successful?

One of the main reasons why Kumamon was, and is, so successful is because of how cute he is. Because of his looks he has been used on many different products and has become a well-known figure all throughout the country.

Another reason behind Kumamon’s success is the unusual, although clearly successful, a strategy of free licensing.

This means that anyone in the Kumamoto Prefecture has permission to use the mascot to sell products, promote their business, etc. as long as they are doing so within the framework of promoting the prefecture.

However, in 2018 this free licensing scheme was actually expanded to be worldwide, meaning that you can now find the mascot used in many different countries.

However, by allowing their mascot to go global it has widened the prefecture’s reach as many more people are familiar with the face and if they happen to look him up they will see that he originates from the Kumamoto prefecture.

The character has been imposed on many major events, popping up at Olympic events and other important ceremonies.

This exposure has been a part of his success as people have become more and more familiar with him at these various events, allowing the character to reach a very wide audience.

In addition, the mascot appears free of charge, although transportation costs are not included, at almost any media event on the condition that reference is made to the Kumamoto prefecture in exchange.

In fact, at some events, Kumamon even hands out business cards just like a salesman in order to promote the Kumamoto prefecture. His self-exposure, including on social media sites such as Twitter has undoubtedly been a major factor in his success.

Although the mascot has reached an impressive standing in the world, the core of Kumamon remains the same: to promote the Kumamoto prefecture.

With every product sold and every appearance, Kumamon is encouraging people to visit the beautiful area of Japan that is the Kumamoto prefecture.

What is the cultural impact of Kumamon?

Because the mascot has seen such huge success not only in the Kumamoto prefecture but in the country, and even globally, he has had a significant cultural impact.

For example, Kumamon has appeared in the video game Yo-Kai which was released in 2014 as well as the movie version Yo-Kai Watch. 

Unfortunately, because the character was free to use it has led to some inappropriate uses of the figure, including references to Satan, which lead the governing body to slightly reduced its licensing and hence restrict its uses.

In 2018, the character of Kumamon took on a new role in the world as a Youtuber, having his own Youtube channel and putting out new videos every Monday. These videos are conducted in Japanese.

Although Kumamon is very popular with people from every walk of life and every age, the bear has a particular affinity with children, especially given his cheeky personality. For this reason, there are many children’s products that involve Kumamon.

He has been used to give support, love, and hope to disadvantaged children, for example, visiting children at a nursery in 2016 in Nishihara after the area was hit by a number of earthquakes.

Kumamon Official Youtube Channel

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.