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Friday, June 20, 2008

Toy show offers plenty for the kid in all of us


Staff writer

Why should kids have all the fun? That's an attitude on display at International Tokyo Toy Show 2008, which kicked off Thursday at Tokyo Big Sight, where people of any age are bound to find something fun to play with.

News photo
Body monitor: Karada Trainer, which was released in May from Sega Toys and offers advice through a headset based on the user's age and heart rate while exercising, is on display at International Tokyo Toy Show 2008 that opened Thursday at Tokyo Big Sight. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTOS

Take for example a ¥20,000 planetarium for the home that projects about 10,000 stars. A hit with adults, Sega Toys Co. has sold more than 200,000 units of Home Star since its introduction in 2005.

Sega representative Minako Sakanoue explained that Home Star's success inspired the company to reach out to older generations.

"The low birthrate problem often gets brought up, but we try to produce products for all age groups," she said.

The declining birthrate has certainly proved no gift to the toy industry over the past several years. According to the Japan Toy Association, the domestic market shrank from ¥742 billion in 2003 to ¥651 billion in 2006.

But this trend reversed in 2007, when domestic toy sales hit ¥670 billion for the first year-on-year rise in four years.

The association credits the rise, at least in part, to expanding distribution channels, including Internet retailers, and the introduction of toy sections at major electronics outlets.

But despite the good news, the industry remains anxious.

"Although the market expanded last year, we can't be optimistic and think that the industry is back on a growth path," Fumiaki Ibuki of the Japan Toy Association told reporters Tuesday.

One obvious hedge against failure is to try and produce toys with broader appeal at a time of clear social and economic change.

News photo
Making food fun: Cooking toys Kurukuru Party and Norimaki Makki by Bandai Co. allow parents and children to play together. The toys will be on display at International Tokyo Toy Show 2008 through Sunday.

So-called parent-child marketing appears to be the mantra for many toy makers. One of the features of this year's toy show, the largest in Japan, might be termed the evolution of second- and third-generation products.

Many people in their 20s and 30s who as kids played with Mini Yonku battery-powered toy racing cars are snapping them up again, according to maker Tamiya Inc., which introduced them back in the early 1980s.

According to Tamiya, Mini Yonku sales increased 32 percent in 2007 and the number of participants at the company's official races was up by 113 percent.

"We really feel this enthusiasm at the events," said Takayuki Ishizaki, a senior member of Tamiya's public relations section.

Ishizaki noted there are a lot of parents and children at the racing events.

"To create products that both parents and children can enjoy is one of our major goals," said Kenichiro Otsuka, a PR rep from Bandai Co.

He cited toys based on characters and cooking as examples of products that parents and children can enjoy together.

Otsuka said toys featuring long-standing popular characters can help older people bridge the generation gap with kids. For example, parents can use toys based on Kamen Rider, a TV action hero series running since the 1970s, to share their experience of watching the show when they were growing up, he said.

Other products that may not fit the conventional concept of a toy may also prove popular.

Much like a personal trainer, Sega's Karada Trainer, released in May, offers advice through a headset that is based on the user's age and heart rate. It is targeted at men concerned about metabolic syndrome.

"Some might question why a toy company makes this kind of product. But because we are a toy company, we can come up with something that people can enjoy and get some exercise from based on some medical information," Sakanoue said.

"Entertainment is in a way something that cannot be restricted by age," she said.



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