This bear is Kumamon! He is the mascot
of Kumamoto Prefecture.
Kumamon is an example of the many mascots figures around
Japan. Cities, businesses, and events have them.
They serve the same function as the Olympic or World Cup mascots
-- advertising, symbol, and object of derision. We saw
them everywhere from transit cards to museums. (Korea also
Kumamon is the most popular -- everyone in Japan recognizes him
and he is invariably described as kawaii (cute) -- a good thing
in Japan. Fukuoka is on the same island as Kumamoto, but
even in Hiroshima which is not, we saw more Kumamons than Hello
Kittys. Not only does nearly every regional product from
Kumamoto have Kumamon on it, there's all sorts of Kumamon stuff,
e.g. infants wear Kumamon costumes etc.
One of Maggie's nicknames for Monica is "little bear," so on
this trip when we learned that "kuma" means bear, we started
calling her Gokuma (little bear). Mascot suggestions