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 Maritime Self-Defense Force said Monday that a crewman of a destroyer killed himself after being bullied by his superior, a 42-year-old petty officer first class, since October 2013. (Jiji Press)
Nineteen more people were confirmed by the health ministry on Monday to have contracted dengue fever in Tokyo, following three last week and bringing the total number to 22 in the first cases of domestic infection in Japan since 1945. (Nikkei)
Hokkaido Prefectural Police on Monday accused a restaurant in Chuo Ward of violating labor laws by attiring waitresses under the age of 18 in bikinis, reports the Hokkaido Shimbun (Sept. 2). (Tokyo Reporter)
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on Monday decided not to indict Torao Tokuda, former head of hospital group Tokushukai, over a high-profile election fraud case, because he is seriously ill. (The Japan News)