TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A wave of anonymous donations of toys and money to underprivileged Japanese children in the name of a comic hero was spreading on Tuesday, cheering a nation still shadowed by the impact of a sluggish economic recovery.
Scarcely a day goes by without another mention of donations in the name of "Tiger Mask," a cartoon series dating back to the 1960s whose hero, Naoto Date, is a professional wrestler who fights wearing a tiger mask. Himself an orphan, he makes contributions to children's homes.
Even Japan's staid public television network, NHK, has made it one of the top news items over the past few days amid a rash of less happy news, such as the stabbing of an elderly couple.
"We'd seen news reports that these donations were being made, but were quite surprised to actually get one. We're extremely grateful," said Nobuyuki Wakabayashi, the assistant director of a children's home in Yokohama, just outside Tokyo.
The facility where Wakabayashi works received a box of stationery goods at the weekend.
The first donation of 10 school knapsacks, which are typically made of leather and often cost the equivalent of several hundred dollars each, was found on Christmas Day with a message in an envelope signed "Naoto Date."
Other gifts have ranged from 200,000 yen ($2,411) worth of gift certificates to toys, as well as more knapsacks.
In one case, roughly $1,200 worth of bills were stuffed into an envelope placed in a supermarket comments box with a message from "Naoto Date" saying, "There are 'Tiger Masks' all over the country. Please use this for children, who have a future."
Many of the donations have been to children's homes, which host children of all ages who have few chances to leave due to family situations that mean many are not available for adoption. Even if they were available there is a deep-seated Japanese reluctance to adopt.
The gifts continue. Media on Tuesday reported new donations in the name of Momotaro, a folktale hero, as well as that of a different cartoon character.
"It'd be great if this wasn't just a one-time thing, if this kind of giving could continue," Wakabayashi added.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato