Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"The saving grace of Kumamon"

Repairing Kumamon Castle, part of which collapsed.
"Fight on Kumamon, You're Strong, Kyushu!"
     When I heard that powerful earthquakes had rocked Kyushu, Japan's southwestern island, earlier this month, my first thought was, "But I was just there!"
      A natural sentiment, I suppose, a human reaction, though not a particularly laudable one. I always worry there's something shamefully egocentric about focusing on your remote connection to some distant disaster: Way to make an immense tragedy all about you, Neil.
This cartoon hoped for pets to be reunited with their
families and invoked "the saving grace of Kumamon."
     My second thought seemed even less appropriate: "Send in Kumamon!" A reference to the jolly bear mascot whose birthday party I attended in Kumamoto last month, as part of my research for an article on cuteness I'm writing for Mosaic, the London web site of science and health. He's the most popular yuru-kyara, or "loose characters," representing every town and city, region and company in Japan.
     I momentarily thought of tweeting words to that effect, as a message of solidarity. "This is a job for Kumamon!" Better than the generic "You're in our prayers."
     Then I reconsidered. People were dying: 45 dead, more than a thousand injured. The material loss is tremendous—Toyota, which has a factory there, alone will endure $250 million in lost sales due to interruption of its production lines. 
      So I kept quiet, not wanting to play glib with their tragedy.
This was captioned "Kumamon, Protect the Children"
      Turns out, I could have invoked the great black bear of happiness. Calling upon Kumamon was a common impulse. It seems as if half of Asia did. Not officially. The Kumamoto Prefecture government, which controls Kumamon (he has a desk and a title, director of marketing) had more important things to do than manage their mascot. So his official Twitter feed, which has a half million followers, fell silent.  
     But others must have really needed him. Kumamon was missed. In Kumamon's absence, people across Japan took to social media to express concern both through Kumamon and for him. They wondered where he was. The Japanese embassy in Canada encouraged ex-pats to send messages of support to Kumamon, and noted manga artists led a campaign of drawing Kumamon to express solidarity and raise money for earthquake recovery efforts. I found them quite touching, and thought I would share a few here. 

A particularly lovely effort from mainland China, whose panda says, "Because we're both bears."


  1. What beautiful sentiments. A great way to start the day!

  2. So touching. What I wouldn't give for a Kumamon vs. Trumpzilla movie.

  3. Re the appropriateness of referencing a comic character like Kumamon after at tragedy, when a friend who lives in a building on Manhattan's upper east side E-mailed a few days after 9-11 saying that a number of his friends and neighbors had gone to their jobs in the Twin Towers and never came home the first thing I thought of was a spookey little poem by A.A. Milne:

    "James, James, Morrison, Morrison
    Weatherby George Dupree
    Took great care of his mother
    Though he was only three.
    James, James said to his mother
    'Mother he said, said he
    You must never go down to the end of the town
    If you don't go down with me."

    She disregarded this sound advice, and, of course, it ended badly.

    "James, James Morrison's mother
    Hasn't been heard of since.
    King John said he was sorry.
    So did the Queen and the Prince.
    King John (somebody told me)
    Said to a man he knew.
    'If people go down to the end of the town,
    Well, what can anyone do?'

    My friend has a literary bent and I though he might have appreciated the allusion, but decided, after thnking it over, and probably wisely, to keep it to myself.

    Tom Evans


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