Dōtonbori (道頓堀), Osaka (大阪) is home to some of the region’s most famous symbols and landmarks. Most of these landmarks are tied to restaurants, such as Kani Dōraku’s (かに道楽) giant moving crab that hangs above the restaurant door, seemingly waving to customers going inside.
One of Dōtonbori’s – and perhaps Osaka’s – most famous landmarks is a strange, bespectacled puppet dressed in a red and white striped clown suit. He stands in the lobby of one of Dōtonburi’s many commercial buildings, cheerfully banging away at a snare drum while local and foreign tourists pass by. Sometimes, his expression changes from a pleasant cheerfulness to something more cheeky and mischievous, and back again.
The happy clown’s name is Kuidaore Taro (くいだおれ太郎), and he is one of Osaka’s most prominent mascots and tourist attractions. But just who is he?
Kuidaore Taro was once the mascot of a famous Dōtonbori-based restaurant known as Cui-Daoré, which first opened in 1949. Cui-Daoré is taken from the saying kuidaore (食い倒れ), which translates to “eat until you go bankrupt”.
Cui-Daoré’s founder was a man named Rokuro Yamada (山田六郎). In 1950, Mr. Yamada wanted to draw in more customers. Cui-Daoré was a family restaurant when it first started, so Mr. Yamada wanted to appeal to families – particularly, to children. After going through different ideas, Mr. Yamada finally settled on a cheerful clown puppet that played the drum – after all, children like clowns and puppets, so it made sense that Cui-Daoré’s newest mascot would be just that.
Kuidaore Taro soon made his debut by the doors of the famous restaurant. When designing Kuidaore Taro, Mr. Yamada had a hard time deciding on what his face should look like. Finally, he decided to use his own face as Kuidaore Taro’s final look. In a way, one could think of Kuidaore Taro as Mr. Yamada himself welcoming customers to his restaurant.
Since then, Cui-Daoré has undergone a lot of changes over the years. For example, it expanded into an eight-storey building in 1959, introduced broiled chicken into its menu in 1962, and opened seven more restaurants in 1970. While Cui-Daoré changed, however, Kuidaore Taro stayed the same, drumming away at the restaurant’s entrance as he always had. His popularity began to drop around the 1970s-80s, yet he has remained standing and has never moved from his post even once.
In 1989, Emperor Hirohito (裕仁天皇) died. To show respect and grief, Kuidaore Taro changed his red-and-white stripes for black-and-white stripes. This change was covered on TV and news outlets from all over Japan, and soon Kuidaore Taro was known everywhere. One could say that he became even more popular than the restaurant he was supposed to promote!
Kuidaore Taro would sometimes change his outfits or wear extra accessories when something big was going on. For example, when the baseball team Hanshin Tigers (阪神タイガース) was leading at the annual Japanese Central League Games in 1992, excited fans were looking to throw Kuidaore Taro into the Dōtonbori river should the Tigers win (as part of Osaka Hanshin Tigers fans’ tradition to throw people who resembled the players into the river) – so Kuidaore Taro wore swimming goggles and a lifesaver, asking people not to throw him into the river because “[He] Can’t Swim!”
Another instance was when the Osaka-born baseball player, Hideo Nomo (野茂英雄), became Most Valuable Player for the LA Dodgers in 1995; Kuidaore Taro was seen wearing a Dodgers jacket.
So when something huge is going on while you’re in Osaka, look around for Kuidaore Taro – he just might be wearing something interesting!
Sadly, Cui-Daoré closed down in 2008, after 59 years of operation. When the restaurant was shut down, Kuidaore Taro was taken away and borrowed for several events around Japan. But in 2009, the beloved clown puppet was returned to his hometown. He now stands in the lobby of the Nakaza Cuidaore Building (中座くいだおれビル), where he continues to smile and drum to this day.
In the ceremony to reinstate Kuidaore Taro in Dōtonburi, then-Governor, Toru Hashimoto (橋本徹), said: “Dōtonbori’s popularity has been restored, thanks to Taro.” True enough, you’ll see images of Kuidaore Taro everywhere you go in Dōtonbori, especially in souvenir shops where you can buy keychains, figurines, plushies, clothes and even food featuring the famous clown. Being considered a symbol not just of Dōtonbori but of Osaka as a whole, you’ll see him everywhere you go in the region.
From restaurant mascot to regional treasure, Kuidaore Taro has truly come far. When in Dōtonbori, make sure to pay him a visit! He’s sure to bring a smile to your face.
Kuidaore Taro’s Website *Japanese only
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