Drive to push Kumamon mascot imagery overseas hits snag in Japan over usage fees

Kyodo

Kumamoto’s drive to promote its popular black bear mascot Kumamon overseas by allowing foreign companies to use its image rights has been met with complaints from local businesses.

Firms in the prefecture, which previously enjoyed the rights exclusively and for free, said clients overseas have canceled contracts to purchase their Kumamon-related merchandise since the initiative was announced Jan. 4.

One company said the canceled contracts were worth ¥6 million.

Despite the grievances, Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima appears eager to push ahead with the quest, saying it will be a positive for local businesses in the long run and prevent unauthorized and malicious use of Kumamon overseas, a trend that has been rapidly increasing.

“By allowing (the use of Kumamon imagery) across the world, I want to make Kumamon the pride of Kumamoto and Japan by it becoming a mascot that will be loved for 100 years, like Mickey Mouse,” Kabashima told a recent news conference.

The prefectural government said it will ask foreign businesses using images of Kumamon on their products to pay 5 to 7 percent of the retail price as usage costs.

Companies based in Kumamoto, meanwhile, will also be asked to pay usage fees when their products with Kumamon images are exported. Domestic use of the imagery by local companies will remain free of charge.

The measure is the latest by the prefectural government to promote the red-cheeked mascot overseas and attract foreign tourists to Kumamoto, which was hit hard by the powerful April 2016 earthquakes.

Products bearing Kumamon imagery racked up overseas sales of ¥800 million in 2016. Kabashima hopes the new measure will further boost its presence in global markets, building on its existing popularity in Asia.

The prefecture, nevertheless, faced a barrage of criticism when it held an event Jan. 15 attended by 67 people from 48 local companies to explain its move.

One of the attendees said the prefecture should have solicited their views beforehand, while another said their company “cannot survive if the situation continues.”

A company based in the city of Kumamoto that makes stationery goods and stuffed animals in factories in China and elsewhere said that “half of its products are exported to Hong Kong and Taiwan and the costs of the cancellation amounted to ¥6 million.”

Following such criticism, Kabashima said: “We will take heed of the opinions (of local businesses) and provide support according to the circumstances of each company. Preventing the unauthorized use of (Kumamon) will also contribute to protecting the businesses of domestic companies in Kumamoto.”

The fees to be collected from foreign and domestic companies for use of Kumamon imagery overseas will be allocated for measures to fight unauthorized use of the mascot, the prefectural government said.