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.
Japanese police said they were investigating a possible attack on a U.S. Army base near Tokyo after finding a pair of launchers and a projectile Tuesday following reports of explosions in the vicinity. (usatoday.com)
A Japanese rescue team failed to enter earthquake-hit Nepal twice on Monday as an aircraft used by the team was unable to obtain permission to land on an airport in its capital Kathmandu because of congestion. (Jiji Press)
Police in Tokyo's Nerima Ward said Tuesday that a dead cat was found at the entrance to an elementary school in Sakuradai. It was the third time this month that dead cats have been found in the neighborhood. (Japan Today)
On Monday, prosecutors at the Osaka District Court filed drug charges against a 39-year-old male whose who was arrested after he showed support for marijuana use on the Internet, reports the Sankei Shimbun (April 27). (Tokyo Reporter)
Japan's 140-member supergroup AKB48 is holding its second annual draft next month, in which sub-teams will choose new members from a draft of 48 young hopefuls. And among the finalists is one of the youngest potential members the group has ever seen. (Japan Today)
If you're tired of receiving vacant smiles and flippant customer service at your local grocery store, you may want to make a trip to Japan, where the customer always comes first and every transaction is concluded with a graceful bow. (rocketnews24.com)