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.
Many of the Chinese fishing boats that poach scarce coral, dubbed "jewelry coral," in waters around the Ogasawara Islands in Tokyo cast off from Xiapu County in Fujian Province, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. (The Japan News)
The operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Friday tentatively removed part of the cover shrouding the No.1 reactor building installed in the wake of the 2011 disaster to keep radioactive materials from dispersing. (Kyodo)
Police in Tokyo have arrested a 39-year-old member of the Air Self-Defense Force on a charge of attempted murder after he pushed a man onto the train tracks at JR Okubo Station in Shinjuku Ward. (Japan Today)
Until only recently, Japan never celebrated Halloween. And why would it? The nation honors the spirits of its ancestors in August, during the ancient Buddhist festival of O-bon, when ancestral spirits are said to revisit the family altars -and when reported encounters with ghosts and spirits reach a fevered peak. (marketwatch.com)