• Kyodo, Staff Report


Some children in the quake-hit town of Mashiki were happy to see Kumamoto Prefecture’s popular black bear mascot Kumamon on Thursday after its first public appearance since the deadly April 14 earthquake.

At around 2 p.m., Kumamon appeared at the town’s convention hall, where many families are keeping their cars to sleep in as aftershocks continue rattling the area.

As of Friday, 1,266 tremors had been logged since April 14.

Kids instantly mobbed the mascot and asked to shake its paws or have photos taken with it. They sang and danced afterward.

Suzuha Araki, 5, from the city of Kumamoto, was delighted to see the bear.

“It’s so fluffy and cute,” she said with a smile.

“In a time like this, I hope (Kumamon) will be more active so that it can make children smile,” said her mother, Rie, 35.

Kumamon later paid a visit to the neighboring village of Nishihara.

The prefectural government canceled all of Kumamon’s scheduled TV and other public appearances after the high-intensity magnitude-6.5 quake on April 14. It had also refrained from making Twitter and Facebook posts.

Amid growing concern about the quakes’ toll on younger victims, however, Kumamon is apparently resuming public appearances to cheer them up.

On Friday, three of the five day care centers in Mashiki reopened for the first time since the quakes began to help working parents cope.

“Since both my husband and I work, we had to ask our parents to take care of our children,” said Hitomi Noda, 34, a nursing care worker who brought her 2-year-old and 5-year-old children to the nursery. “We are worried of continuing aftershocks, but being able to let them go to day care really helps.”

The centers are running at reduced hours for the time being.

Meanwhile, the land ministry Wednesday said a fresh landslide occurred on a mountain in the village of Minamiaso that was possibly triggered by aftershocks and rain.

An area of mud about 100 meters wide by 320 meters deep on the mountainside slipped, the ministry said. Since there are cracks further up the mountain, the ministry believes more landslides are likely.

The mountain is near a bridge that collapsed after last month’s quakes.

On Sunday, rescuers suspended the search for a missing college student because of persistent fears of additional accidents, including landslides and structural failure.

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