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 research whaling vessels have returned to a port in Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan, after completing a survey expedition in the Antarctic Ocean. The expedition was unusual in that it did not involve catching any whales. (NHK)
With the arrival of the cherry blossom season, the Tokyo metropolitan government has taken steps to manage the influx of revelers expected at Ueno Park in Taito Ward, where a hanami festival is being held. (The Japan News)
A teen model smiles sweetly at the camera. Deftly using her hands, she produces a considerable volume of white, goopy liquid. Then she turns to the camera and asks, innocently, "It all came out?" (rocketnews24.com)
Lee Dong Cheol, 61, and an employee of his trading firm were arrested by the Kyoto, Kanagawa, Shimane and Yamaguchi prefectural police departments on Thursday for allegedly importing North Korean matsutake mushrooms under the pretense that they were Chinese ones. (The Japan News)
Police reported a record-high 28,923 minors aged below 18 to child welfare authorities as suspected victims of child abuse in 2014, up 33.9 percent from a year earlier, the National Police Agency said Thursday. (Kyodo)