• Kyodo


Sales of products featuring Kumamon, the official black bear mascot for Kumamoto Prefecture, swelled to at least ¥29.36 billion in 2012, about 11 times more than the previous year, officials said.

Taking advantage of the boom, prefectural officials said a Kumamon song — the first of its kind — will be available for karaoke machines starting March 12, the mascot’s birthday.

Kumamon was the winner of a 2011 online popularity contest between some 350 mascots from across Japan. The mascots, known as “yuru-kyara,” literally meaning “loose characters” to signify their laid-back image, are created by local governments and businesses to attract tourists and invigorate their communities.

Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima was pleased with Kumamon’s popularity, saying, “It became famous as companies on a nationwide scale used our mascot.”

Sales of food products featuring the mascot accounted for most of the total in 2012, coming to about ¥24.6 billion, 15.9 times the previous year.

Sales of Kumamon toys and stationery surged sixfold to about ¥2.6 billion.

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