Rilakkuma is arguably San-X's most popular character ever, and for good reason -- this huge brown bear is kind, cute, and cuddly to boot! Watching it lounge around and be content doing its own thing is the perfect way to get yourself smiling whenever you're feeling blue.
As you've no doubt noticed on merch and other forms of media, though, Rilakkuma isn't alone in its laid-back lifestyle: there's a host of other bears, animals, and humans that join in on all its relaxing escapades.
If you've ever wondered just who Rilakkuma and those other characters are, you've come to the right place!
In this blog post, we'll explore the mascot's back story and get to know both it and its friends a whole lot better.
Let's dive right in!
Who created Rilakkuma?
In 2003, San-X ordered its staff members to create a character each month that could be used as the company's new mascot going forward.
Exhausted with daily office life, employee Aki Kondo came up with a bear (kuma) that simply loved to relax (rilakkusu).
And so, with a bit of clever wordplay and catchy creativity, Rilakkuma was born!
Where did the idea for Rilakkuma come from?
Now that you know who actually created Rilakkuma and its universe, the next natural question is: Where did the idea come from?
The answer: TV!
Kondo saw a television segment where a chihuahua was living the easy life: well fed, well groomed, and well cared for, to the point of being spoiled rotten. In fact, the dog seemed so carefree that Kondo started to think how nice it would be if she herself were a pet , even if it meant -- and this is important -- jumping into a full-body animal costume! It was a busy time in the office after all, and work fatigue can certainly make you want to escape from it all by whatever means necessary.
What exactly do animal costumes have to do with adorable San-X bears, you ask?
Read Rilakkuma's profile below and find out!
Character #1: Rilakkuma
In a nutshell
- An adorable brown "bear" (we'll explain in minute)
- Loves nothing more than to laze around the house
Rilakkuma shows up one day in the apartment of an office clerk named Kaoru, who -- despite not knowing where the unexpected visitor comes from -- welcomes it with open arms. Talk about leaving a good first impression, right?
What's intriguing about Rilakkuma is that it has a zipper on its back, beyond which you can see some light-colored cloth with blue polka dots. This seems to imply that Rilakkuma isn't actually a real bear at all, but rather someone (or something) inside a bear costume.
And while the stop-motion animated series does provide us with some visual clues to back this unexpected reality up -- a wardrobe full of spare costumes, a washing line where costumes are hanging out to dry -- what's noticeably absent is any sign of spare Rilakkuma heads.
Could Rilakkuma just be a bear in a bear costume after all?
Could it actually be creator Aki Kondo herself, fulfilling her desire to escape from the hustle and bustle of professional working life?
Nobody knows for sure, unfortunately!
As touched on above, Rilakkuma is a portmanteau of "relax" and kuma (the Japanese word for bear). True to its name, its hobbies include lying around, sleeping, watching TV, listening to music, and soaking in hot springs. It also loves dumplings, pancakes, Japanese omelet rice (omurice), and pudding.
What it most definitely doesn't like, though, is spicy food and summer -- perhaps because of the amount of physical exertion needed when dealing with both. That being said, it's not too fond of the rainy season either, because the climate conditions are just right enough for fungus to grow inside its costume.
Despite being lazy, Rilakkuma does seem to become emotionally invested a lot of the time. It cares a lot about its friends -- whether it be treating Korilakkuma like a younger sibling, or being visibly shaken at the thought of having to say goodbye (when Kaoru unintentionally implied that she wanted Rilakkuma to go away for a while).
Such an adorable, wholesome character, don't you think?
Character #2: Kaoru
In a nutshell
- Relatable working adult in her twenties
- Her apartment acts as the new home for Rilakkuma and friends
A down-to-earth office clerk who looks after Rilakkuma and its friends.
Though competent at her job, Kaoru's female colleagues don't seem to like her that much -- to them she seems overly serious (to the point where they don't even bother asking her out to social gatherings). All in all, she feels so underappreciated at work that she even considered going back to her hometown and taking up farming.
Kaoru lives alone in a rundown apartment together with her pet bird, Kiiroitori, whom she thought was just a normal bird -- until she found it outside its cage, feeding pancakes to an unexpected visitor (Rilakkuma).
Kaoru is, in a word, a trooper -- one who tries to soldier on with head held high in spite of adversity, loneliness, and (perceived) hopelessness.
Just like many other working professionals in their twenties, Kaoru feels like time is passing her by. Her friends are busy with work, romance, and their own families -- leaving her in the dust of single life and a mediocre career.
It's not like Kaoru doesn't try to keep up, though.
Case in point: She actually has a huge crush on her deliveryman, and finds herself buying things online just for the chance to see him when he does his rounds. Sure, her wallet takes a beating, but at least she gets to see him every day!
Character #3: Kiiroitori
In a nutshell
- Kaoru's pet canary
- Neat freak and caretaker (bear-taker?) in Kaoru's absence
Kaoru's pet canary (kiiroitori literally means "yellow bird" in Japanese) and loyal friend that looks after Rilakkuma et al when Kaoru is away from home.
Kiiroitori lives a peaceful life inside its cage, but is by no means confined to it; in fact, unlike your typical pet bird, it can actually waltz in and out of its own accord. It just never did so until Rilakkuma and friends arrived on the scene.
Kiiroitori is like the anchor holding down the ship: diligent enough to keep the laid-back Rilakkuma in check, and steadfast enough to act as fragile Kaoru's rock. Indeed, in this hectic house, Kiiroitori might just be the MVP!
What no doubt helps to no end is Kiiroitori's unwavering focus on cleanliness. With bandanna and feather duster at the ready, you can be sure it'll leave no stone unturned when it comes to ridding Kaoru's apartment of any soot, stain, or spill that comes its way.
Though you can easily imagine the lazy Rilakkuma letting things slide, Kiiroitori is the type that will call you out in an instant if it's something dear to its heart. After all, it was positively huffing and puffing in anger when the humid weather resulted in a fungus outbreak at home.
Character #4: Korilakkuma
In a nutshell
- Fun-loving "bear" that follows Rilakkuma around
- Trademark red button
Like Rilakkuma, this small white bear suddenly shows up in Kaoru's apartment one day -- without rhyme or reason. The two characters didn't actually know each other before, though, as evidenced by the fact that Rilakkuma straight up asks it "Where are you from?"
If you ever find yourself slightly confused about which bear is which, just remember that ko means "little" in Japanese. That makes this character quite literally Little Rilakkuma! In fact, Kiiroitori gives the character its Korilakkuma name precisely because it was always mimicking everything Rilakkuma did.
One glaring difference between the two characters apart from color and size is their design: As mentioned above, Rilakkuma has a zipper on its back, which really calls into question the nature of its existence. Korilakkuma is completely zipper-less, but it does sport a charming red button on its chest. Obviously whether it's a real bear or just a costume (or something else) is still up in the air, but a button is definitely not as suspicious as a literal zipper!
Korilakkuma is like a lovable child: mischievous yet well-meaning, bursting with energy, and always with its favorite toys (radio-controlled duck and stuffed penguin) by its side.
In fact, you could very easily say that Korilakkuma is the perfect foil to neat freak Kiiroitori.
For starters, while the canary enjoys cleaning up mess, Korilakkuma is all about creating mess! It loves to play pranks and scribble (read: graffiti) everywhere and anywhere, often to the chagrin of even the rather chill Rilakkuma. (Drawing on Rilakkuma's face when it's asleep doesn't exactly help, either.)
And while Kiiroitori is very grounded and conscientious when it comes to looking out for those around it, Korilakkuma is a bundle of pure innocence. For example, it totally believes in aliens -- to the point that when a UFO made its way into Kaoru's apartment, the pint-sized bear happily left right along with it.
Character #5: Chairoikoguma
In a nutshell
- Newest character to join Rilakkuma and friends
- An actual bear that lives in an actual forest
Once again Kiiroitori keeps things grounded by giving this character a helpful name: chairoi means "brown," ko means "small" (as we've seen with Korilakkuma), and guma is a variation of kuma ("bear").
With puffy chest fur, tiny little fangs, and an insatiable love of honey, there should be no second-guessing that (at least in the world of Rilakkuma) this is as real a bear as you can get.
Obviously, it won't do to have the well-meaning yet fragile Kaoru live with an actual wild bear, so Chairoikoguma's home is separate from Rilakkuma and the other characters: it lives alone in an acorn house in Honey Forest.
Chairoikoguma has, understandably, a bit of a wild side to it. It's got a good roar under its belt -- enough to make Kiiroitori a little scared- and isn't afraid to get into a fight. Its whole body smells like honey, which is unsurprising given how much it eats the stuff. And there's the fact that it has its own separate dialect that it uses with its forest friends (a wolf, a squirrel, and a bee), including such words as kuma-ma and kuma-kyun.
And yet despite this raw, untamed streak, Chairoikoguma is still brimming with kindness and affection. Its initial connection to the franchise's colorful cast of characters is Korilakkuma, who encounters it while walking through the forest one day. (Korilakkuma even has a nickname for it: Koguma-chan.)
Recap: Rilakkuma Character Guide
With so many adorable bears and other animals on the scene, it might be hard to keep track of who the main characters are in the Rilakkuma universe. Here's a short recap and summary!
Lazy brown "bear" with a zipper on its back
Office clerk who lives with Rilakkuma and friends
Kaoru's pet bird that loves to clean
Playful white "bear" with a red button on its chest
An actual bear that lives in Honey Forest
We can't wait to see what new characters will join this already colorful cast next!
Rilakkuma's popularity continues to soar
Just like Sanrio's Hello Kitty and My Melody, the kawaii characters in San-X's Rilakkuma universe are positively etched into the minds of countless people both in Japan and abroad. With so many new Rilakkuma products and crossovers gracing us each and every year, it's not hard to see why.
In fact, Rilakkuma's popularity is so widespread that certain merchandise is actually exclusive to specific countries. And of course, for many of us the most sought-after goodies are those with limited release in Japan, where Rilakkuma and friends originate from.
If you think that means you'll never be able to get your hands on those rare Japan exclusives, don't worry: online marketplaces like ZenPlus help bridge that gap and connect you with every bit of Japanese-only merch you could possibly think of.
Click the button below to browse rare Rilakkuma plushies, toys, stationery, and other products you would normally only be able to buy if you were physically in Japan. And if there's something in particular you've been chasing after but can't find on our platform, let us know and we can help point you in the right direction!
Over to You!
What exactly are Rilakkuma and Korilakkuma if they aren't real bears?
Who is your favorite San-X character?
Let us know in the comments or drop us a line on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook). We'd love to hear from you!
ZenPlus is your one-stop shop for all things Japanese. Check out our Toys, Hobbies & Games category for authentic merch from San-X and other cute brands, direct from Japan to you.
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Thanks for reading!