Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Action Figures Force Japanese Families to Bond

They may call them "figurines" like the old folks do, but DPA cranked out a fairly amusing article about how toys are forcing families to get closer...because they can't afford to do anything else.

Tokyo - At Hakuhinkan Toy Park, a shop on chic Ginza Street, visitors from home and abroad are welcomed by mountains of toys, the latest gadgets and figurines of popular anime cartoon characters. To some people's surprise, many of those who eye up the toys here are adults, including some businessmen in dark suits. That seems to reflect a trend, as major toy makers release more toys targeted at not only children but their parents in an aging society with fewer children. Ironically, the nation's economic downturns have helped push up sales of certain types of toys. Instead of spending money traveling or going to an amusement or theme park, more parents and their children are staying at home playing games.

Cookery sets have been popular among such families and can also help strengthen family ties, toymakers say. Mothers and daughters team up to make crepes, cookies, sushi and bread with the gadgets. "The key words are low cost and high value," Chie Yamada, a public relations executive at major toy maker Takara Tomy, said. "The toy sets are not expensive, about 20 to 40 dollars per unit."A set typically comprises a shaker, measuring cup, tray, wrapping papers and recipes. The food is then cooked in the family's oven or stove. "Mothers and daughters enjoy cooking and learning together. As such toys can offer a variety of recipes, they also help children unleash creativity," said Yamada. Mai Mabuchi, a public relations executive at Bandai Co Ltd, said the toymaker had sold more than half a million of its "Cook Joy" range of toys. A sushi-roll-making set is one of the most popular. Bandai wants to expand sales of "Cook Joy" overseas and has seen steadily rising sales since the sushi roll maker was launched in South Korea in June 2008, Mabuchi said. The toy maker is to introduce the "Cook Joy" crepe or bread maker in the US and European markets this autumn.

Fathers' absences from home have long been a social problem in Japan. But these days, some toys such as popular anime hero figures help fathers and sons to come closer, toymakers say. Last year, many fathers celebrated with their sons the 30th anniversary of Gundam, one of the country's oldest and most popular anime heroes. Gundam's first show aired in 1979, when many of today's fathers were young boys.

There are even toys that may foster closer ties between dogs and owners. Takara Tomy introduced Bowlingual Voice in August 2009, a new iteration of a gadget that can analyze a dog's bark to detect its emotion. It has a price tag of 19,950 yen (221 dollars). In 2002, the toy maker sold 300,000 of the first Bowlingual dog translator devices worldwide. Bowlingual Voice, an upgraded device, consists of a tiny wireless microphone that can be attached to a dog's collar to capture its barks and whines. The latest version was co-designed by an audio researcher and a veterinarian to analyze and interpret the acoustics of a dog's bark. "In the midst of a faltering economy and growing are turn to family' sentiment, there are more and more people who are finding comfort and peace of mind by making a heartfelt connection with their pets and family," Takara Tomy said in its statement.

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