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 associated with 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 domestic and foreign tourists, as well as locals, pass by. Sometimes, his expression changes from a pleasant cheerfulness to something more cheeky and mischievous, and back again. So you never know if he wants to make you laugh, or if you’ll be his next murder victim.
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 or what is he? We’ll give you a primer on this colorful local mascot so you have many more reasons to take a photo of him, or purchase some souvenirs. After all, family members and friends around the world will surely laugh at the sight of Japan’s most famous clown.
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 closed down many decades later.
Cui-Daoré’s founder was a man named Rokuro Yamada (山田六郎), who in 1950 placed the cheerful clown puppet at the front of his restaurant as a bid to appeal to families – after all, children like clowns and puppets, so it made sense that Cui-Daoré’s newest mascot would be just that. It’s surprising that this didn’t backfire, though, since clowns can also be considered creepy, and Kuidaore Taro was not necessarily cute.
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 himself as the model for 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 underwent a lot of changes over the years. In the following decades, it expanded to an eight-story building, and even opened seven more restaurants by 1970. While Cui-Daoré kept changing, the Osaka mascot, Kuidaore Taro, stayed the same. He was always drumming away at the restaurant’s entrance, like he always had. In all the years since Taro’s installation, he was never moved to a different location.
Though Kuidaore Taro was never moved to a different location, the same could not be said about his appearance. In 1989, Taro changed his red-and-white stripes for black-and-white stripes in honor of the death of Emperor Hirohito (裕仁天皇). This palette change was covered on TV and news outlets from all over Japan; and soon Kuidaore Taro was known everywhere in country, becoming more famous than the restaurant he was intended to promote.
Kuidaore Taro then started changing his outfit, or wear extra accessories when something big was going on. For example, when the Hanshin Tigers (阪神タイガース) baseball team was leading at the annual Japanese Central League Games in 1992, excited fans wanted 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 couldn’t swim.
Another instance was when an Osaka-native baseball player, Hideo Nomo (野茂英雄), became the LA Dodger’s Most Valuable Player in 1995. When this happened, Kuidaore Taro, a mascot of Osaka himself, was seen wearing a Dodgers jacket.
Therefore, when something huge is going on while you’re in Osaka, look around for Kuidaore Taro since he could be wearing something interesting!
Sadly, after 59 years in business, Cui-Daoré closed down in 2008. After the restaurant closed, Kuidaore Taro was put under the care of several events around Japan. However, in 2009, the beloved clown puppet returned to his hometown, where he now stands in the lobby of the Nakaza Cuidaore Building (中座くいだおれビル).
In the ceremony reinstating 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, plush toys, clothes, and even snacks featuring the famous clown. Being considered an icon of Dōtonbori and the city of Osaka, you’ll see him everywhere you go in the region whether you find him cute or terrifying.
Kuidaore Taro’s Website *Japanese only