SNIFFING THE gift-giving season in the air, the adorable Japanese black bear Kumamon has just arrived in Bangkok, towing in its wake a slew of creative design ideas from the Far East.
The government of Kumamoto Prefecture gave birth to Kumamon in 2010, a mascot for its tourism campaign following the opening of the sightseeing Kyushu Shinkansen railway line. It's a cheeky, cheerful giant bear that everyone's assumed to be male, with red cheeks to represent "the Land of Fire", as the prefecture is known thanks to its volcanoes and hot springs.
The very next year Kumamon was declared Japan's favourite regional mascot in a national survey. It has its own chain of shops selling all sorts of merchandise - daily utensils as well as souvenirs - and has been produced for sale at convenience stores in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Kumamon's Bangkok habitat is the Betrend stationery zone at Siam Paragon. Opened in August, the bear's store is run by ICC International, which also holds the local distribution licences for top fashion brands like Lacoste and Daks.
The shop isn't huge, but ample enough to stock a wide array of items from Japan, including new designs specially developed to fit Thai tastes. There is stationery, home decor and clothing of such variety that everyone from teens to senior citizens will find something of interest.
"One of our Japanese suppliers introduced us to Kumamon," says ICC brand manager Brinda Bunpapong. "As soon as we saw it we immediately knew this bear had potential in the Thai market. We started selling it online shop and the response was great, so we decided to open a shop at Paragon."
The rest of the gear on offer is functional and attractive in white, grey, black and blue. Among the stationery are cute pens, clutch pencils, plastic folders, stickers, mouse pads, notebooks, key rings and bookmarks, all bearing pictures of Kumamon in different poses.
Elsewhere there are shampoo bottles, Kumamon dolls wearing striped or polka-dot scarves, and comfy cushions in different sizes. One corner has screened T-shirts made from "bio-silk" that allows for ventilation and is soft on the skin, plus canvas eyeglass pouches, coin bags, black totes, caps, plastic cosmetic bags and handkerchiefs.
"We also have special-occasion Kumamon dolls," says Brinda. "We've got him in Halloween costumes and next week there'll be a Santa Claus version."
CUDDLY AND CUTE
The Kumamon shops are in Betrend on the fourth floor of Siam Paragon and at the Emporium.
They're open daily from 10 to 10.
Call (095) 370 1143 or visit the "Thailand.Kumamon" page on Facebook.