Kumamoto Prefecture’s “Kuma-mon” received a congratulatory hug from Gov. Ikuo Kabashima when the black bear mascot of the southwestern Japanese prefecture visited the prefectural government office to report he had won a popularity contest among about 350 local mascots the previous day.
A total of 3.33 million votes were cast between September and Saturday in the online contest, with Kuma-mon collecting 287,315 votes. He was followed by “Barii-san,” a bird character from the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari with 245,238 votes, and “Nishiko-kun,” an unofficial mascot of an area surrounding JR Nishikokubunji Station in Tokyo, with 174,079 votes.
“Well done,” the governor told kuma-mon when he arrived at the office. Since he is unable to speak, an attendant responded, saying, “It’s owing to everybody’s support.”
These characters, created by local governments and businesses to attract tourists and invigorate their communities, are known as “yuru-kyara,” literally meaning “loose characters” to signify their rather unrefined and laid-back image.