Not only does Kumamon, Kumamoto Prefecture’s official mascot, bring a smile to everyone who sees him, but even the Imperial Couple is not immune to the popular black bear’s charms. On their visit to Kumamoto to attend a fisheries summit, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko spent a few light moments with the mascot before moving on to more serious matters.
Kumamon was created by the prefectural government back in 2010 to be the symbol of tourism when they opened the new shinkansen bullet-train. He proved to be a great hit with the Japanese, with a recent poll saying that over 90% of respondents recognize him. He also has the distinction of being last year’s most popular mascot as voted by an online poll. His name comes from the prefecture’s name Kuma, meaning “bear,” combined with the local word for thing, mon. His likeness has been used to sell rice and local snacks and he received the title “sales manager” for agricultural products for helping bring attention to local produce.
During the royal couple’s visit, he entertained them with his “signature dance”, which saw him march, hop, skip and wave his arms, to the delight of his audience. Emperor Akihito praised Kumamon for visiting the children in the northeastern Tohoku region who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The Empress jokingly asked if Kumamon was single, and Kumamoto Governor Ikuo Kabashima said that he is just Kumamon to “avoid crushing children’s dreams.”
Aside from spending time with the ruddy-faced bear, the Imperial Couple visited Kumamoto Castle as well as their first ever visit to Minamata city, the site of the industrial emission of a toxic substance that led to mercury-poisoning disease, which was named Minamata Disease. They laid flowers at the monument to the victims and attended an event at the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum.
[ via Wall Street Journal ]