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Friday, July 17, 2009

Tokyo's top toy expo shows what's cooking


Staff writer

The International Tokyo Toy Show kicked off Thursday at Tokyo Big Sight, highlighting the latest trends in Japan's toy industry, including the growing popularity of cooking toys and products for the future, particularly environmentally friendly gadgets.

News photo
Chew away: An employee shows off fresh caramel made by Tomy Co.'s Nama Carmel Pot at Tokyo Big Sight on Thursday. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Although many industries have struggled in the global recession since last year, the domestic toy industry suffered only a 1.2 percent drop in market size in fiscal 2008.

Despite various problems, including the recession as well as the low birthrate and safety issues involving toys, the industry is doing pretty well, said Takeo Takasu, chairman of Namco Bandai Holdings Inc. and the Japan Toy Association.

"It seems that we have lived up to the reputation that the toy industry is recession-proof," Takasu said, adding that sales figures since the beginning of this fiscal year are looking better than last year.

While card games were last year's blockbuster, cooking toys in particular are seeing robust sales this year.

The number of cooking toys put out by four major players — Sega Toys Co., Tomy Co., Bandai and Megahouse Co. — increased to 37 in fiscal 2008 from just 10 the year before, and sales in the category increased by 3.5 times.

This trend is plain to see at the toy show, which has drawn 132 companies displaying 36,000 toys through Sunday.

Among the various treats these toys can produce are Chinese dumplings, ice cream, cotton candy, "mochi" sticky rice and bread.

Tomy Co. is displaying its Nama Carmel Pot, a kit children can use to make fresh caramel in a microwave oven. It won the "trendy" category at the Japan Toy awards this week.

According to a member of Tomy's marketing team, about 50,000 caramel kits were sold in the first month after their debut in late April, against a goal of 150,000 for the entire year.

Cooking toys are generally considered a hit if they sell 100,000 units per year, although various factors come into play, including price, the Tomy employee said.

Sega Toys has around 110,000 of its Ice Kurin ice-cream maker since last July.

Atsuko Shimizu, on the toy's marketing team, said Sega was worried the price was a bit steep at ¥6,800, but it has been selling very well.

Shimizu said cooking toys became popular due to the recession, because people are growing more reluctant to dine out. With cooking toys, families can play with their children while cooking together, which also facilitates family communications.

"Cooking toys are really easy to use, so mothers can try recipes that they usually think of as difficult," she said, citing ice cream an example.

The show is also featuring a possible trend — toys that are environmentally friendly.

For instance, some toys are using solar batteries, while Kawada Co. has produced a version of its plastic Daiblock snap-together building blocks called Eco Block, with paper as the main material.

By using paper instead of plastic as the primary material, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 40 percent during manufacture and disposal, according to Takeru Saigo, a manager of Kawada's planning division.

Saigo said the company will continue to work on producing environmentally friendly toys and expects other companies will be doing the same.

But the move toward green toys hasn't become industrywide yet. Takasu of the Japan Toy Association said the industry is still mulling over how to tackle this issue as a whole.



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