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.
Fugu pufferfish that make beautiful "crop circles" on the seabed off Amami-Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture have been chosen as one of the top 10 new species for 2015 by an international research institute, according to the National Museum of Nature and Science. (The Japan News)
In a crackdown on overcharging of customers, Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Friday announced the bust of two hostess clubs in Shinjuku Ward for overcharging customers, reports the TBS News (May 22). (Tokyo Reporter)
Pedestrian crosswalk laws are all over the place no matter where you go. What's considered jaywalking varies by country, and in the U.S. each state has its own laws for exactly how far the pedestrian needs to have crossed on the crosswalk before you have to stop. (rocketnews24.com)
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Wednesday announced the arrest of multiple organized crime and motorcycle gang members for participation in a brawl that erupted last year in Kita Ward, reports the Sankei Shimbun (May 20). (Tokyo Reporter)
A Japanese man who says he was deceived into carrying someone else's bag on a flight into Indonesia was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for smuggling methamphetamine into the country with harsh drug laws. (Japan Today)