Here in Japan, we have mascots for everything. Lovingly called Yuru-Kyara by the locals, nearly every commercial brand and even prefectures and municipalities in the country are represented by these cute characters.
Name a location and I’ll bet you that they are represented by characters that are definitely cute and endearing.
While mascots are not that abundant anymore since the Japanese Finance Ministry decided there are just too many of them, one household name has stood the test of time.
Kumamon, Kumamoto Prefecture’s beloved cartoon representation, has been hailed many times as Japan’s most popular Yuru-Kyara. Kumamon is a huggable and mischievous bear who started from humble beginnings. Conceived in 2010, mainly to attract tourists to Kumamoto’s Kyushu Shinkansen opening, Kumamon has become his own brand. Appearing in various merchandise, commercials, even as hotel and airplane themes, this black bear mascot has estimated to have earned ¥123.2 billion in two years prior to 2014. Kumamon has even gone as far as the Cannes Film Festival, where the mascot promoted Japanese short films starring – who else- but himself.
How can a small town bear become such a huge fixture in Japan? This can be credited to his uncommon but effective marketing strategy. Companies who wish to use Kumamon’s image and likeness are free to do so. This can be accomplished by just simply filing an application, without any fees. Kumamoto Prefecture only has one rule that comes with allowing the use of Kumamon – just include something that will promote Kumamoto Prefecture. This generous process has allowed hundreds of companies to cash in on the Kumamon craze.
This strategy by the Kumamoto Prefecture is the reason why Kumamon is such a pop culture star, appearing in almost all forms of media and merchandise throughout Japan.
Truly, Kumamon’s role doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Look for Kumamon merchandise when visiting Japan, and take a piece of this national phenomenon home!