The Star is Born – Yuru Kyara Champion KUMAMON
KUMAMON was born on 12th March 2011, the day that Shinkansen, the bullet train on the Kagoshima route started its service through Kumamoto, his home town. Since then, he appears wherever he can find happiness in promoting Kumamoto prefecture’s sights and produce. The original campaign was called, Kumamoto Surprise, and this is why KUMAMON always looks happily surprised.
KUMAMON – The Biggest Star of Yuru Kyara
KUMAMON perfectly matches the three criteria of Yuru Kyara, strong affection to its hometown, a unique and unstable movement, and lovable slackness. His name literally means the local one from Kumamoto.
Also, Kuma means a bear in Japanese. The local black bear is extinct since the early 20th century, but Kumamoto prides itself as the only one of forty-seven prefectures which uses the letter that represents an animal’s name, a bear. The black colour comes from the image of their very famous Kumamoto Castle. It is easy to see once you see them together.
He was an instant local sweetheart and was crowned the champion of Yuru Kyara Grand Prix in 2011.
KUMAMON works for the municipal office as the manager of the happiness division and sales department. So, his mandate (yes, he is a boy) from the mayor is to promote the surprise of the prefecture’s sights and products, and to spread happiness.
The big part of his job to travel around Japan. He has recently visited Yokohama for promotional events, often seen at events in Osaka where the Shinkansen to Kumamoto starts/terminates, and on local events and on the TV station. His birthday event will be on 12th March in his hometown with other Yuru Kyara friends.
His popularity has never stopped growing, inside and outside Japan.
Easily Accessible Yet Very Low Tech
Working with stars is usually expensive, but as KUMAMON is a local government official, his event appearances and use of his illustrated images are free for promoting Kumamoto’s sights and products. The users just need to apply to the governor’s office for permission. Over 20,000 approvals have been given on the image use, and KUMAMON is always busy visiting places.
Permissions are granted under very strict rules and guidelines. The detailed guideline is 45 pages in Japanese and non-compliance will result in immediate withdrawal of products and will affect future applications. The last small hurdle may be that they only accept the application form through fax (for KUMAMON appearances), mail, or by physically handing it in.
This clear guidance and the ease of access to the character lead to great success. Bank of Japan Kumamoto branch assessed the economic impact of KUMAMON for two years from November 2011, the month he was crowned Yuru Kyara champion. In two years, the ripple effect was estimated to be 124.4 billion yen, well over 1 billion dollars, through the increased product sales, tourism and media exposure.
Ambassador with Personality and Substance
He was a pioneer of Yuru Kyara to actively use Social Media from an early age, building the individual character. For example, there was an incident when KUMAMON absconded his duty in Osaka because he loved it so much there and wanted to explore – to look for more happiness. The mayor set up a press interview, appealing to the public to look for him, get in touch via Twitter when found him: it was published on You Tube (only in Japanese).
These stunts made his fame spread wide in Japan and overseas. There is a dedicated café in Shanghai, YouTube clips with English subtitles, he has an English Twitter account, he accompanied the mayor to New York, and journalists love to write articles about his amazing success.
Future of Yuru Kyara as Business
But the fame brings trouble as well. There are so many copy characters abroad, such as the white version, with no benefit for the happiness of Kumamoto prefecture. It has now gone out of the control of the municipal government.
At the beginning of 2018, the local government introduced a licensing charge for the use of the logo, higher fees for use by businesses from abroad, and preferential rates to local businesses. The administration of foreign applications has been outsourced to a PR agency who has wide experience in dealing with multi-national projects. The system is currently being built, and is in transition – setting up the by-region communication line.
It is still difficult to see how this will take Yuru-Kyara business in the future. 2018 may well be a turning point. But for now, we can only enjoy the surprise, and the happiness KUMAMON and his friends bring to your everyday life.
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