Kumamon leads Japan's mascot craze, but don't mention Pluto-kun
guardian.co.uk -- May 13
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.
Japan's farm ministry said Thursday that the highly pathogenic avian influenza found at a poultry farm in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kumamoto has been confirmed to be the H5N8 subtype, the same virus strain as the bird flu found in South Korea. (Jiji Press )
Train operators in Tokyo and surrounding areas will be shutting down coin-operated luggage lockers at main stations before and during US President Barack Obama's visit next week, as a security measure. (NHK )
Just over one ton of water contaminated with radioactive particulates leaked from one of the containment vessels at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said. (Japan Today )
Japan is expected to secure the minimum required power supply capacity when electricity demand peaks in August, even if all the country's nuclear reactors remain offline, estimates by major regional utilities showed Thursday. (Kyodo )
Tochigi prefectural police said Thursday that they are questioning a man in his 30s over the murder of a 7-year-old girl in December 2005. Japanese media quoted police as saying that the man, who was arrested for dealing in fake brand-name goods, has hinted at his involvement in the murder. (Japan Today )
People enjoy viewing the 15-meter snow walls of the Yuki no Otani (Great Snow Valley), along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route that passes through the Northern Japan Alps to link Toyama and Nagano prefectures. (The Japan News )
Tokyo prosecutors plan to look into whether a man, who has been arrested for allegedly vandalizing copies of Anne Frank's diary, is mentally competent to be held criminally responsible for his actions, informed sources said Wednesday. (Jiji Press )