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Happy birthday to Kumamon, Japan’s favorite regional bear

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

You don’t have to be from Kumamoto Prefecture to know Kumamon — a cute red-cheeked black bear who was officially introduced as the region’s yurukyara (mascot character) in 2010. Since his appearance, he has arguably become one of the hottest yurukyara, along with Funabashi’s blue-aproned pear, Funassyi. In fact, Kumamon has proven so popular that he’s even traveled abroad to promote the prefecture in China, Singapore and France, and was recently seen performing his Kumamon dance in front of the Emperor.

Fans of the bear will be happy to hear that on March 12, Kumamoto Prefecture is celebrating his birthday with a five-day Kumamon Tanjosai (birthday festival) bonanza. As might be expected of big stars, Kumamon’s exact birth year and real age is confidential, but March 12 has been set as his official mascot birthday.

One of the main events is a parade with the bear, which will head through the city of Kumamoto on March 12 from 12:30 p.m. Photo exhibitions of Kumamon in action are also being held at the Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto and the Tsuruya Department Store.

For craft-loving fans looking for a souvenir, there is also a special workshop where participants can create Kumamon key holders.

Kumamon Tanjosai 2014 takes place March 12-16 in various locations across Kumamoto, including the Kumamon Square in Suidocho and the Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto in the Chuo Ward. Start times of events vary, and all are free of charge. For more information visit kumamon-official.jp.