From October 21 to 26, Consulate General of Japan in Houston, Japan America Society in San Antonio, San Antonio City and Kumamoto Prefecture collaborated on a project to bring Kumamon to San Antonio. Kumamon is a Kumamoto prefectural employee, and an exceptionally popular yuru-chara, a Japanese term for cute mascot characters created to promote their hometowns. Kumamoto City, the capital of Kumamoto Prefecture, has been San Antonio’s sister-city for nearly 30 years. Kumamon was invited to visit to promote the friendship between the two cities by appearing at many exchange events.
October 22, Thursday
Kumamon’s journey began bright and early on Thursday morning when he joined in on the City Council Meeting. At the meeting, Kumamon was recognized as a special guest of the city and Mayor Taylor presented Kumamon with a certificate making him an honorary citizen of San Antonio. As thanks for the honor, Kumamon presented Mayor Taylor and all of the City Council delegates with Kumamon dolls. Also during the meeting, Kumamon had the great opportunity to meet the mascot of the San Antonio Spurs, The Coyote. Although The Coyote was a little jealous to hear that Kumamon is a prefectural employee, the two became fast friends, playing around and greeting the city council members.
After the City Council Meeting, Kumamon had a quick tour of downtown San Antonio. He explored the Spanish Governor’s Palace and played on the Riverwalk. Everywhere he went, Kumamon greeted surprised locals with a big smile and an even bigger hug. Next Kumamon had a delicious BBQ lunch from County Line. While there, he danced with a mariachi band and learned about San Antonio’s Spanish roots. After lunch Kumamon did more sight-seeing and visited San Fernando Cathedral.
On Thursday evening Kumamon made a guest appearance at the Consulate-General of Japan’s reception at San Antonio College to recognize U.S. service members who have served in Japan. (link) He received a very warm welcome with lots of applause. At the reception Kumamon and Kumamon’s big sister, also a prefectural employee, taught guests the moves to his famous dance, Kumamon Taiso. All of the guests joined in, making the top of Kumamoto Castle with their arms above their heads, and waving their arms to welcome travelers to Kumamoto. The reception was a great success thanks to Kumamon’s appearance.
October 23, Friday
On Friday Kumamon learned more about San Antonio and all of the great initiatives taking place around the city. First Kumamon visited Mission Concepcion and met members of the National Park Service (NPS). Dedicated in 1755, Mission Concepcion is one of the oldest unrestored stone churches in Texas and is one of five complexes to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. The park rangers presented Kumamon with a t-shirt to show that he “Found His Park”, a new initiative by the NPS to encourage visitors to locate and enjoy national parks. In return Kumamon gave each ranger a special Kumamon pin.
From there, Kumamon paid a visit to the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) where he learned about the unique way that San Antonio takes care of its rivers and riverwalks. While there, Kumamon was shown how to paddle a kayak and said hello to all of the excited staff.
In the afternoon, the East Asia Institute of Texas University at San Antonio hosted Kumamoto Day, a celebration of Kumamoto Prefecture and Kumamon. Students visited booths to learn more about Japan and Kumamoto. They played traditional children’s games like daruma otoshi, answered trivia questions, and collected prizes. At the main stage, Dr. John Frederick, Provost of UTSA, introduced Consul General Takaoka and he gave remarks to express his hope that students would enjoy Kumamon’s performance. (link) Then Kumamon met UTSA’s mascot, Rowdy, and they danced together on stage. Then, members of Japan Club also joined Kumamon on stage to perform Kumamon Taiso and audience members, approximately 100 people, also danced along.
On Friday night Kumamon went to the AT&T Center to meet his friend The Coyote at his work. The San Antonio Spurs played an exciting game against the Houston Rockets. During the second timeout, Kumamon and The Coyote took to the court to greet approximately 10,000 Spurs fans. To show his appreciation for his new friend, Kumamon presented The Coyote with a cute Kumamon stuffed animal. The Coyote loved it, but it seems like he wasn’t prepared for such a nice gift. In return he gave Kumamon a dirty sock! Of course, Kumamon refused such a gift, so next The Coyote offered him a rubber chicken! Kumamon refused that, too. Finally, The Coyote had a good idea. He gave Kumamon his own Spurs jersey, just like an NBA player! Kumamon happily received this gift and he and The Coyote left the court as friends.
October 24, Saturday
On Saturday Kumamon made an early visit to the Japanese Supplementary School which meets weekly to offer lessons in Japanese language to Japanese children living in the San Antonio area. He played with the kindergarten class and learned how to do the Dinosaur Dance with them. Then, all of the Supplementary School students, from kindergarten all the way to High School, gathered together at the cafeteria to watch Kumamon perform. Kumamon did two dances and around 100 people, including students, their parents and teachers, danced and sang along. Then, Kumamon presented the school with several Kumamon illustrated books in Japanese. Kumamon took a group picture with the whole school and all of the kids were so excited to hug him and take a picture together.
After leaving the Supplementary School, Kumamon visited the McNay Museum. He greeted lots of guests in the museum lobby and took many pictures before beginning his tour of the Miro exhibit. Kumamon listened carefully as a docent talked about the many paintings and sculptures of artist Joan Miro. Kumamon really saw himself in some of the art!
October 25, Sunday
On Sunday the Japan-America Society in San Antonio held the 2015 Aki Matsuri, a yearly fall festival in the style of a Japanese matsuri with the attendance of around 1,000 people. The weather was beautiful and gave a great view of the Japan Tea Garden where the event was held. Guests were treated to musical performances, a traditional tea ceremony, as well as lots of booths for souvenirs and food. In the middle of all of these festivities, Kumamon was the special guest performer. He danced and entertained guests twice during Aki Matsuri and in total more than 500 people came to see Kumamon and his famous dance moves. In between performances Kumamon toured the grounds of the Tea Garden and enjoyed meeting many people in San Antonio. After his last performance, Kumamon was generous enough to take individual pictures with a long line of excited guests.
On Monday morning Kumamon said goodbye to his sister-city of San Antonio and sadly returned to Kumamoto Prefecture. But, he was very glad to know he was leaving with a lot more friends than when he came.