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 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, or what is he? We’ll give you a primer on this colorful local mascot.
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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), 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.
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 has undergone a lot of changes over the years. In the following decades, it’s expanded to an eight-story building, and even opened seven more restaurants by 1970. While Cui-Daoré kept changing, the Osakan mascot, Kuidaore Taro stayed the same, drumming away at the restaurant’s entrance as he always had. In all the years since Taro’s installation, he has remained standing and has never moved from his post even once.
Though Kuidaore Taro’s never changed position, that doesn’t mean he didn’t change his image. 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. One could say that he became even more popular than the restaurant he was supposed to promote!
Kuidaore Taro would now change 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 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 an Osakan native baseball player, Hideo Nomo (野茂英雄), became Most Valuable Player for the LA Dodgers in 1995; Kuidaore Taro, a mascot of Osaka himself, was seen wearing a Dodgers jacket.
So when something huge is going on while you’re in Osaka, look around for the clown, Kuidaore Taro – he just might be wearing something interesting!
Sadly, after 59 years of business, Cui-Daoré closed down in 2008. After the restaurant closed, Kuidaore Taro was put under the care of several events around Japan. But 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, plushies, clothes and even foods featuring the famous clown. Being considered an icon 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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