National

Beloved mascot Kumamon's absence since quakes spurs Japan Twitter traffic

by Shoko Oda

Bloomberg

Kumamoto mascot Kumamon has been missing in the wake of last week’s devastating earthquakes in Kyushu, spurring concern on social media for its safety as well as criticism for the prefectural government’s failure to use the furry animal’s network to share information.

Kumamon is a round-faced bear about 1.5 meters tall tasked with promoting tourism and local products. It has more than 460,000 followers on its official feed.

However, it hasn’t sent a tweet since Thursday, when it said it was looking forward to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. That night a magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck the region.

In the days since, some Twitter followers have expressed concern for the bear’s safety, while others criticized Kumamoto for not utilizing the account to disperse information about the quake.

“Kumamon, it was a big earthquake with lots of aftershocks, so it must have been a restless night. I pray for the safety of Kumamon and everyone else,” wrote someone with the user name harunohaha.

“I didn’t think it would be inappropriate if Kumamon continued to tweet updates. But someone mentioned that the person inside Kumamon is a government person, right? I don’t think he/she has any time to be putting on an animal skin right now,” wrote a user whose post was re-tweeted more than 5,000 times.

Mascots are a big part of local and prefectural governments’ efforts to entice visitors.

In 2011, Kumamon was voted the most popular mascot in a nationwide character competition.

Kumamoto Prefecture, which features the Kurokawa hot-spring resort and a castle site that dates back to 1467, attracted almost 60 million last year. Of those, 483,891 were non-Japanese, a 14.3 percent increase from the year before, according to a government survey.

Kumamon’s official website released a comment Friday that it has decided to refrain from dispersing information about the quake to “prioritize helping those affected by the quake.”

Officials from both the prefectural government and the Kumamoto Municipal Government, including Mayor Kazufumi Onishi, are among a handful of individuals who have started updating their accounts with information about the quake.

“There are rumors about Kumamon’s disappearance. Its account is verified, so I think they should use it to tweet official updates,” wrote another user.