They help collect taxes, promote tourism and save the environment, but Japan's mascots cannot escape controversy
He is a genuine household name in a country where celebrities are ten a penny. His rosy cheeks and unreadable expression appear on hundreds of products, from sweets and snacks to bags of rice, stationery and toys - part of a commercial portfolio worth almost 30bn yen last year.
That's not bad for a cuddly black bear with a mischievous streak, who has risen from humble beginnings promoting a new bullet train station in southern Japan to become the country's pre-eminent mascot.
Kumamon - a combination of the words Kumamoto, his home prefecture, and the local pronunciation of mon, or "things" - has built up a following to rival that of fellow bears Pooh and Paddington since being named Japan's most popular mascot two years ago.
He is the undisputed king of the yuru kyara, or loose characters - a nationwide fraternity of about 1,000 different mascots who provide a touch of whimsy to the serious business of collecting taxes and saving the environment, to promoting tourist spots and regional cuisine.
The U.S. dollar traded at a six-year high around the mid-108 yen level early Thursday in Tokyo amid growing speculation that interest rate hikes in the United States may come sooner than expected. (Kyodo)
Japan told a general meeting of the International Whaling Commission on Wednesday that it will continue research whaling under a new program based on an International Court of Justice ruling in March against its past hunting for scientific purposes in the Antarctic Ocean. (Jiji Press)
Following the bust of a shopping site selling shoes containing a miniature camera used to take illicit photographs, Kyoto Prefectural Police are now seeking the return of the merchandise from customers, it was revealed on Tuesday, reports the Mainichi Shimbun (Sept. 17). (Tokyo Reporter)
Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko may visit Palau next year, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, to pay their respects to Japan's war dead, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday. (Jiji Press)
A car was partially buried due to small mudslide and three people sustained injuries after a magnitude-5.6 quake hit a wide area of Kanto region in Japan around noon on Tuesday, according to local report. (shanghaidaily.com)
The government had lifted a vehicle ban on National Route 6 through the area where residency is restricted due to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, the first time that stretch of highway has been open to automobiles since the nuclear crisis began in March 2011. (Japan Times)