In September 2007, after Shinzo Abe had abruptly quit his first stint as prime minister, sales of Shin-chan Manju, a bean-paste-filled bun named after Abe, spiked. The maker of the buns had tried to promote the product over the course of Abe's year as the Liberal Democratic Party leader, changing its name in line with the prime minister's evolving vision of a "beautiful Japan," but the buns never sold very well — that is until he resigned. The sudden interest in the confection was simply a register of its commemorative value. It made a nice "keepsake," as one buyer told Kyodo News at the time.

Popularity was attached to the "event," not the "character." Something similar can be said about the success of Kumamon, the official mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture, who also overcame an initial lack of interest. One of thousands of mascots created during the initial yurukyara (soft character) boom of several years ago, the smiling black bear (kuma) is credited with bringing the prefecture ¥11.8 billion in revenues in the first six months of 2012 alone, after drumming up only ¥2.56 billion in all of 2011. Kumamon promotes thousands of Kumamoto products, the vast majority food-related, and he has 120,000 Twitter followers. In a prefectural survey of local companies, 90 percent said they believe Kumamon significantly boosted their business.

As a personification of a local government's image, Kumamon is similar to former Miyazaki Governor Hideo Higashikokubaru, whose likeness also helped sell thousands of local products during his term, but Higashikokubaru's image was cultivated over many years as a nationally known comedian. What is Kumamon's secret?