Sales of products featuring Kumamoto Prefecture's popular Kumamon black bear mascot surpassed 100 billion yen ($874 million) in 2015 for the first time, the prefectural government said Wednesday.
The figure represented the fifth straight year of record sales for such products since the local government began surveying the sales after the mascot's creation in 2011.
The record sales were attributed to a sharp increase in the sales of farm products bearing the image of the character, which won a 2011 online popularity contest among some 350 local mascots from across Japan.
Last year, sales of Kumamon products at retailers reached at least 100.78 billion yen, up 56.6 percent from the previous year, according to the survey. Sales of food products, including tomatoes and strawberries packaged in containers bearing the character, roughly doubled to about 78.1 billion yen.
Sales of goods featuring Kumamon overseas, mainly in Asia, came to about 2.1 billion yen, after the prefectural government lifted a sales ban on Kumamon products overseas in June 2014.
"Kumamon's greatly contributing to the economic wealth of the prefecture," Gov. Ikuo Kabashima said at a news conference. "I'm surprised they sold this much overseas."
The local government has pinned its hopes on the prospect of Kumamon catching on in China and driving sales of related products down the road.
Kumamon is one of the best-known local mascots, known as "yuru-kyara" literally meaning "loose characters," to signify their laid-back image, that were created by local governments or businesses to attract tourists and invigorate communities.
The Kumamoto government sent questionnaires to 5,160 sellers handling Kumamon goods, with responses obtained from 3,380 of them.