April 25, 13 | Nanae Aratame
"Mr. Masafumi Sugawa from Beggar Swindle" - Hokkaido Artist Submission ③
Original Hokkaido characters created just to bring a smile to your face!
Have you ever heard of the "Free Hugs" movement?
Basically someone carrying a sign which reads "Free Hugs" walks around and hugs anyone interested. For free!
There are many videos of this posted on the internet, and they show how much fun it is for everyone involved. Recently the free hugs movement has spread to Hokkaido, and it's taking off!
Because this takes place in Hokkaido, however, the person carrying the sign isn't a human, it's a bear!
The man behind this character is Mr. Masafumi Sugawa.
Mr. Sugawa is a representative for "Beggar Swindle," a company which plans events and activities around Sapporo.
This pink bear mascot is a Hokkaido original character named "Koakkuma"
"Akkuma" is a purple bear who act as a partner character, and the two spend much together time spreading their slogan "Smile, Change The World!"
According to their back story, the two bears came to Earth from "Akkuma Star," landing in Sapporo by chance.
The characters first appeared in 2008, and just five short years later they are highly sought after for events. As the years go by the pair are quickly becoming well recognized Hokkaido mascots.
The bears were created by Mr. Sugawa around 2008 after a conversation with a friend.
"We realized that, although bears are often associated with Hokkaido, there were no cute bear characters at all."
He and his friend derived the name "Koakkuma" from a Japanese term meaning "devil." (Koakuma)
Mr. Sugawa explains, "The reaction to the characters was good, so we made some stickers and starting trying to create some buzz."
Mr. Sugawa decided to take a daring leap during the 2009 Sapporo Snow Festival.
He took his creation "koakkuma" to a national mascot event. The bear was a hit, and many were charmed by it's cute appearance.
That year at the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Koakkuma "Free Hugs" began!
"I thought that, even though hugs aren't really a part of Japanese culture, if it was a cute bear people would probably embrace the idea!"
He was right. The response was fantastic and many people walked away from their hugs with smiles on their faces.
After success at the event, in the spring on 2009 Koakkuma took his free hugs to each of the 179 municipalities in Hokkaido.
People young and old were delighted by the chance to hug a real Hokkaido bear!
"During our first free hug tour we visited nursing homes as well. The joyful surprise, and sometimes tears, we were able to create really moved me."
Although these mascot characters are usually created to attract children, the tour revealed a whole new appeal for the characters, an untapped potential.
When not giving out free hugs, the bears have begun collaboration with the "Hokkaido Walker" magazine in an effort to convey local charm of activities across Hokkaido.
In addition to being featured in the magazine, there is also a video series being distributed on YouTube.
Once a month on Ustream, the bears bring a unique location right to you.
●Koakkuma's Youtube Channel
●"Yurutabi Hokkaido" on Ustream
Starting from such a humble beginning, to have come this far so quickly Mr. Sugawa considers himself "blessed to have met so many people."
From Sapporo digital creation plaza "ICC" Chief Coordinator Mr. Toshiya Kubo, to Sapporo officials, many important figures are huge fans of the bears, and have helped them make their way into the hearts of Hokkaido natives.
"There are certain rules to society, but if you present changes in a way that connects with your audience they might just help you make small changes to the way of things."
In this case, hugs in Japan are becoming more and more common place.
Mr. Sugawa explained what he's learned from Koakkuma, "Joy is important, money isn't everything, if you truly devote yourself to something you can make it happen. These are all well known phrases and to repeat them might seem a bit preachy. Putting them into practice is the best way to show younger members of society how to help improve their world."
But Mr. Sugawa isn't only interested in creating and managing characters.
"Entering a new industry where I don't really know how things are done, creating a project, and seeing what happens. That's something that I find really fun!"
I wonder what he'll try his hand at next?
Be sure to keep an eye out for him and his bears!
For information about Koakkuma and Akkuma events, check the official website↓
Koakkuma on Twitter: KOAKKUMA_JPN
Akkuma on Twitter:AKKUMA_JPN
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KOAKKUMAandAKKUMA
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Nanae Shinmoku)
The Northern Museum of Visual Culture: http://kitanoeizou.net/
Hokkaido Magazine "Kai": http://www.kai-hokkaido.com/