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Friday, Dec. 30, 2005
Toys for adult boys increasing
As population grays, grownups become makers' focus
Mr. Craft in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward may look like any other toy store for kids on the first floor, but go up one floor and you will find some very different playthings.
The main group customers that browse the second through eighth floors of this store near JR Ebisu Station are men in their 30s and 40s -- some even older.
Business is booming.
The most expensive toy here is a 265,000 yen handmade F1 racing car, only 10 cm in length.
"One or more F1 cars priced around 10,000 yen are sold every day," said Koji Higashi, manager of Mr. Craft's second and third floors.
The days when Japan's toy industry focused exclusively on children are over.
With a graying society and declining birthrate, there are fewer young customers, so toy makers are targeting adults to ensure their survival over the long term, according to industry insiders.
The situation is serious. The number of births has been dropping, from 2.09 million in 1975 to only 1.11 million in 2004.
But luckily for the industry, the number of adults -- mostly men -- spending time and money collecting and often playing with toys is rising.
One booming business is in miniature cars. Men that once played with these toys are snapping them up as collectors items, according to Mr. Craft spokesman Yuichi Negishi.
"These kind of changes have taken place recently, say, in the past 10 years or so," Negishi said.
The price range for most of the thousands of miniature models the store sells is between 3,500 yen and 4,500 yen.
In November alone, Mr. Craft sold about 100 new German models and another 1,000 secondhand toy cars, Higashi said.
Fumiaki Ibuki, chief editor of Toy Journal, a monthly magazine for the industry, believes the emerging adult market is a reflection of a changing mind set: more emphasis on pleasure in their private time and less emphasis on their jobs.
"In the old days, people would say child's play is child's play, something grownups should not do," said Ibuki, who has been following the toy industry for three decades.
"But now adults believe pleasure is very important for them, too, and that working is not the sole purpose of life,"
Toy Journal publishes the catalog for the Tokyo Toy Show, an annual trade show organized by The Japan Toy Association.
Ibuki said this year's show, Sept. 15-16, had a significant number of new products for adults.
One such toy was Homestar by Segatoys Co., a device that can project as many as 10,000 stars on the ceiling like in a planetarium. Despite the steep price tag of 20,790 yen, it has been a big hit, Ibuki said.
Another hit toy for adults is a mind-sharpening game for the Nintendo DS mobile game machine.
The software, which promises to prevent senile dementia, offers tests that rate and improve a person's brain functions. The software has proved to be a blockbuster, selling 1 million copies in the first six months of its launch.
The adult toy market is not limited to grown-up boys either, it also has a lot of women customers.
Primopuel, a line of cute-looking alien dolls that speak when spoken to, was aimed at women in their 20s when it entered the market in 1999.
But the Bandai Co. series has become a large and long-lasting hit with women in their 40s and older, who see the speaking dolls as substitutes for children who have grown up, Ibuki said.
And the market can expect more items targeting adults as predictions flourish that Japan's population decline will only get worse.
According to a projection by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the demographic up to age 14 will continue to shrink, from 18.50 million in 2000 to 10.84 million in 2050, and its ratio to the entire population will fall from 14.6 percent to 10.8 percent.
But does that mean the main focus of the toy industry will shift to the growing adult market?
Ibuki's answer is no. One reason, he said, is that trends in kids' toys tend to be more universal and Japanese toy makers are exploring new opportunities in foreign markets.
One example is Takara Co.'s Beyblade, spinning tops that can be customized with a wide range of snap-on designs sold separately. The tops are big sellers in Japan, the United States and Europe -- in that order -- and they have recently become the hottest toy in India, Ibuki said.
Konami Corp. has also had success overseas with Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards. They first became popular here and have since spread to the U.S. and Europe.
"It's true the situation for the (domestic) market is very serious," Ibuki said. "But the industry is probably in a very interesting transition period."