Maybe you’ve seen a happy-go-lucky bear, maybe you haven’t. If you’re in Japan, you’re likely to see him on everything. Yes, I mean, everything. Tissue boxes, frozen fried rice packages, candy, cookies, soba bags…I think even on Ninja‘s shaved tummy (from her spay).
Kumamon is a mascot bear from the Kumamoto Prefecture. Since his creation in 2010 from the Kumamoto Surprise campaign for tourist through the new Kyushu Shinkansen line, Kumamon has become a hit in Japan. In 2011, he won a national mascot contest, generating a large revenue prize for the Kumamoto region.
Kumamon isn’t just a prize winner; he’s a profit builder as well. Anything with Kumamon is expected to be bought up. Is it because of his sheer cuteness? Who knows? All I know is that Kumamon looks very much like my Bombay cat.
When my husband told me drunkenly, “I have a surprise for you,” followed by a slurred set of directions, I didn’t know what to expect one late night. Maybe chocolate or a paper bunny rabbit from his school’s moon-viewing party (kangetsukai, 観月会). But when I picked him up, he pushed a black kitten into my hands. This kitten, as he said before trotting off to the bathroom in Family Mart, was named Ninja. While my husband spoke to his teachers outside of the karaoke building, one of the teachers screamed. The two beady eyes that looked at them belonged to Ninja, and my husband immediately scooped her up and claimed her as his.
Ninja playing in her cat grass. Yes, Japan sells individual plots for our lovely kitty.
Although we had no idea about her background, my husband and I took her into our humble abode. She’s been conquering every space of the apartment since she arrived–and I have no problem with that. Everything about her is black–her fur, her gums, even her button nose–except her bright green eyes. The green disappears the moment she spots me walking barefoot around the apartment before she pounces on my feet like a miniature panther. When I take a nap, I find her napping right next to my head, fast asleep.
The first night with Ninja was pretty exciting for me, and I’m sure, for her as well. I haven’t owned a pet since I was thirteen years old, and I really love them, especially cats. We put her in a box lined with a pink towel, and she curled up in the box and fell asleep. She didn’t meow or seemed scared. My husband, drunk as he was, fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but I couldn’t sleep soundly. I was thirteen years old again, feeling the excitement of having a cute little kitten in my home again. Around 5 AM, I heard her disappear out of the box. I couldn’t find her as I went through the house and found where she went to the bathroom. The excitement dampened (she ignored the makeshift kitty litter at the threshold of the bedroom), but I discovered her back in her box. I sat down next to the box, and her first meow came out of her mouth. It was small, almost the sound of a garbled, unused voice. She climbed on me, nuzzling me, until she settled on my lap and promptly fell asleep. That’s when I knew she was going to stick around.
In one weekend, we bought ninja many things: a “cat condo”, a pot of “cat grass”, a cat carrier, a large kitty litter, and various cat toys. The funny thing is she doesn’t need much to stay entertained. She likes a Daiso darts ball with Velcro, a braided draw string from my basketball shorts, and a used Spongebob plushie. And she’s really like a ninja; she’s stealthy and fast–until she attacks.