Kumamon, governor tickle the ivies

Kyodo

Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima on Tuesday took Kumamon to Harvard to give a lecture at one of America’s most prestigious universities on how the cuddly black bear mascot has helped “maximize the overall happiness” of the prefecture’s residents.

Later at Fenway Park in nearby Boston, the pair later met Wally, the mascot of the Red Sox, this year’s World Series champions.

At Harvard, more than 100 students and other people packed the hall to listen to Kabashima’s lecture, which was titled “Kumamon’s political science and economics.” The 66-year-old governor has a doctorate in political economics from the Ivy League school.

He spoke about how the mascot has been helping promote the prefecture’s image and products, as well as raising the spirits of people in Kumamoto.

Recalling that the global financial crisis hit just months after he became governor in 2008, “I needed to shift values from economy to overall happiness,” he said.

Kabashima stressed that Kumamon is “public goods” as any business can use its image free of charge once an application is made with the prefectural government.

“Kumamon’s universe expands on its own,” Kabashima said, adding that it is created by fans, businesses and media.

Kumamon meanwhile danced to a song named after the character.

Hannah Shepherd, who is working toward a doctorate in Japanese history, said that when foreigners think about Japan, Honshu usually comes to mind. Having also studied at Kyushu University and being a fan of Kyushu, she said Kumamon will help make the southernmost main island better known.

The lecture came about at the invitation of Kabashima’s alma mater.

Although the event emphasized the positive aspects of Kumamon — one of the most successful “yuru-kyara” (soft characters) that have become common nationwide to promote prefectures and municipalities — some mascots have gotten into trouble. Totto-chan of Tosu, Saga Prefecture, recently drew fire from the public by making obscene comments on a late-night radio show.