Gundam toy
Tops, kites and “sugoroku” (a Japanese version of Parcheesi) are popular. Yo yos were all the rage in the late 1990s. Over 45,000 people competed in the 1998 national competition.

Japan was has been the source of many of the transformable robot and remote controlled devices that have been so popular with kids. In November 2007, the toy company Tomy introduced the world’s smallest radio-controlled helicopter in the world. About the size of a human hand, it can fly five minutes on a 20 minute charge from its lithium-ion battery.

Mobile Suit Gundam plastic models assembled with airplane glue have been popular over the years. Between 1980, when they were introduced, and 2009 more than 363 million kits has been sold by their manufacturer, Bandai.

In the mid 2000s, the Kaneko seafood-processing from in Yuasacho, Wakayama Prefecture, began selling packages of “chirimen jyako” — dried baby sardines — containing small dried sea creatures. The packages became a big hit with children who used magnifying glasses to look at the creatures and a special reference book to identify the creatures, which include baby shrimps, crabs, sea horses and balloonfish.

Japan is regarded as a world leader in toy design. There are hundreds of toy shops n the Tokyo area and a special term for toy nerds (“toy otaku”). There are toy makers designing toys sought after by toy collectors and shows to show them off. Many toys are made in limited editions purposelysdo they will draw the interest of collectors. For American fans of Japanese toys, manga and anime that are special tours that include stops at the Tokyo Toy Show, Ghibli Museum, Sanrio Puroland and numerous toy stores.

Toys sought after by toy otaku are anime-based goods such as the Gundam series by Bandai; sexy female $180 robots by Segatoys that are programmed to dance, kiss and strut like a model; and $36 Airbots by Wizland that fly with the help of helicopter robots and can be maneuvered remote control

Bone is an iconic figure sculptor,

In Japan it is possible to get figures custom-made to look like oneself. The figures are available for about $150 from the Bandai toy company through a special website and include brides and grooms, cowboys and other models. Many customers complain the figures end up not looking very much like them.

Books: “Plastic Culture: How Japanese Toys Conquered the World” by Woodrow Phoenix (Kadansha International, 2006); “Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination” by Anne Allison (University of California, 2006)
Good Websites and Sources: Good Photos of Traditional Toys at Japan-Photo Archive ; Traditional Japanese Games and Toys ; Goods from Japan ; Japan Geeky Toys ;Cool Japanese Toys ;Japan Toy Museum japan-toy-museum ; Toy Companies Bandai ; Sega-Sammy ; Popular Games Japanese Fads in the 1990s ; Mobile Suit Gundam ; Mobile Suit Gundam Official ; Official Pokemon Site ; Yu-Gi-Oh ;Mushi King — King of the Beetles ; Love and Berry — Dress Up and Dance ; Arcades Arcades in Japan ; Arcade Hell ; New York Times on Japan’s Arcade Slimp


Japanese Game and Toy Makers

small remote helicopter
Takara, Tomy and Bandai are Japan’s largest toy manufacturers. Takara had great success with the Transformer robot vehicles. It also makes Sesame Street dolls and produces the Japanese verison of the Game of Life. Tomy had big success with Micropets. It also sells Star Wars action figures and Pokeman cards.

Bandai makes the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Gundam figures, video games, and DVD movies. The company has had successes with Tamaguchi electronic pets and the Dragonball Z martial arts fighting video game which played on Sony’s Playstation 2.

In May 2005, Bandai bought Namco in a $1.7 billion deal. The new business called Namco Bandai holding will be the No. 2 maker of toys and games in Japan after Sega Sammy. Namco invented Pac Man and developed the Ridge Racers driving game. It also operates game arcades and theme parks in Japan.

Sega Sammy is the No. 1 maker of toys and games in Japan. It was formed in 2004 from a merge of the video-game maker and the manufacturer if pachinko gambling machines. Konami is another major game maker. It also runs popular chain of health clubs.

The Iwako Co. in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture is the world leader in novelty erasers. It churns 150,000 of them a day. Among the 250 different kinds are ones of animals, cakes, vegetables and cars. There is strong demand for erasers as novelty items. They are fixtures of stationary stores and ¥100 shops. About 20 percent to 30 percent of the company’s sales are to overseas customers.

See Video Games

Facing decline in the number of children in Japan, toy makers have begun targeting adults with things like $100 ultra-small karaoke machines and $70 portable bath planetariums that shine star-like lights on the ceiling and walls when the lights in the bathroom are turned off.

Dolls in Japan

Hakata doll
See Traditional dolls, Crafts.

Barbie dolls are have been popular in Japan. One 20-year-old woman told the Washington Post, "I love Barbie so much. I want to be Barbie...She's cute, pretty, perfect — pretty much everything I want to be."

Mattel says that $90 million worth of Barbies and Barbie accessories are sold very year, and collector Barbies can fetch $20,000 or more. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan and now the dolls are so popular that Mattel introduced a line of Japanese Barbie clothes, shoes, underwear, pajamas, hats, gloves and other accessories. Barbie sets sell for up to $100 in Japan.

The first Barbies were made in Japan in the 1960s.


Hakata doll
Licca-chan is the Japanese answer to Barbie. Created in 1967 by the Takara Company, she is the best-selling Japanese doll of all time. As of 2002, more than 48 million Licca dolls had been sold. To celebrate her 35th birthday a million dollar Licca was released with a velvet dress studded with 881 diamonds and adorned with 75 grams of platinum

Licca-chan has black hair and dignified, flat-chested princess look to her, as opposed to the busty California look of Barbie. According to her maker she likes to study music but is not very good at math, her father is a musician and her mother is a designer. While Barbie has remained true to Ken over the years, Licca-chan has had a string of four boyfriends — Wataru, Masato, Isamu and Kakeru.

Licca-chan accessories include a wide range of clothes and costumes and furniture for her doll house. A pop group called Idol Unit Licca has released several singles. There are shops in Tokyo where women can buy human-scale versions of Licca’s clothes and hair stylist that re-create her hairstyles.

In 2012 a grandmother version of Licca-chan was introduced. made its appearance in 1967. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Primary school girls who played with Licca-chan when it was introduced in 1967 could well have grandchildren now. The grandma doll has been named Yoko Kayama by the toy's manufacturer, Tomy Co., which also gives her age as 56. Yoko was a popular girls' name among the generation who played with the original Licca-chan. [Yomiuri Shimbun]

"Licca-chan is popular as they [customers in their 50s and 60s] can play with their grandchildren using a doll similar to the one they used to play with in their childhood," a Tomy spokesperson said. Despite her presumed age, Yoko Kayama appears rather young. I guess she is supposed to be an ideal model for a modern woman who is beautiful, active and looks young for her age. "Daisuki na Obaachan" (my favorite grandma) retails for 3,360 yen.

Japanese Tops

Edo koma tops are used to perform tricks and were traditionally spun during New year. They come in various sizes and shapes and are often painted red, black and gold and given a lacquer finish. The best ones are handmade using lathes from wood that has been aged for three years so that the top does not lose its spin after many years of use.

The doll-making town of Hakata is also famous for its tops, which sometimes take more than five years to make, and prized for top tricks. Some skilled performers and dancers can make a top spin in a cotton thread or the edge of a Japanese fan or even the cutting edge of a Japanese sword.

Battling cast-iron beigoma tops is traditional game in which two players spin tops on a cloth on a bucket and the first top that gets knocked off loses. The sports is believed to date back to 8th century Kyoto.

In the early 2000s, a similar game was all the rage among elementary-school-age boys in Japan. The tops, known as Beyblades, were spun into a small plastic arena using a syringe-like propelling device. The tops could be altered with a variety of snap-on plastic pieces that made them look like rotating saw blades. The tops were popularized by a popular manga and animation hero of the same name.

Beyblades engendered the kind of enthusiasm that had not been seen since the Pokemon rage. Adults arrived at shops early to wait in line to get the latest stuff for their children. Within a matter of months afte they were introduced 20 million tops were sold and stores couldn't keep them on the shelves. A tournament at a sumo arena drew 6,500 kids. Although the tops only sold for $7. The company that made them, Takara Shuzo Co., made a fortune selling accessories, launchers and arenas. Kids also got into collecting all the different tops. Just as quickly the fad died out. Beybaldes were introduced with much fanfare in the United States where they were hyped to be the next Pokeman but that didn’t happen.


One of the most popular fads to come out of Japan has been “Pokemon”, a multimedia phenomena that include cards, video games, television shows and a merchandises. Inspired by a Nintendo game about catching and growing monsters, the Pokemon carton first appeared on Japanese television in April 1997 and later made its way to the United States and Europe, where it set off a card trading craze and eventually made its way to every country in the world, except for maybe North Korea.

“Pokemon” means "Pocket Monsters." Initially there were 151 characters, the most famous of which was Pikachu, a little, yellow, bunny-like creature. Others include Mew, Meowth and Caterpie.

As of the late 1990s, Pokemon had been broadcast in 65 countries and had been translated into more than 30 languages and was featured on the cover of Time.


Yu-gi-oh expert card
For a while Pokemon was displaced by Yu-Gi-Oh, another multi-character phenomena involving cards, animation and merchandise. The main character, a doe-eyed boy, with spiky blond hair was named Yugi Moto, or Yu-Gi-Oh, The Yu-Gi-Oh phenomena began as a comic series in the magazine Shonen Jump in 1996.

Boys in particular were crazy about Yu-Gi-Oh cards. They were banned from schools and bullying incidents involving them were reported. Between 1998, when the cards were introduced, and 2001 over 7 million Yu-Gi-Oh games and 3.5 billion Yu-Gi-Oh cards were sold.

Yu-Gi-Oh cards were marketed in such as way that players of them game with the most cards had a better chance of winning. Some cards were sold in huge packs or were only valuable of you bought video games.

Japanese obsession with card collection began in 1904 with selling of menko cards. In World War II, boys collected cards with military men. After the war cards with sumo wrestlers and baseball players were popular. In the 1970s, Kamen Rider Snacks with card were all the rage. The cards were so popular that kids purchased snacks, took out the cards and then threw the snacks away.

Tamagotchi Virtual Pets

Tamagotchi virtual pets were very popular worldwide in the late 1990s and made a brief come back in Japan in the mid 2000s. Endearing to some, annoying to others, these egg-shaped and egg-sized computer games had to be "fed," "played with," "cleaned" and "scolded" by their owners who punching buttons below a small liquid-crystal screen with a picture of a chicken. If the toy wasn't fed or taken care of at the proper time the Tamagotchi started peeping and the "peep, peep, peep" got louder and longer until the pet was taken care of by its owner. Tamagotchi means "cute little egg."

The lifespan of the virtual pet was a maximum of about 15 days. The toy "died" of its was unattended for more than five of six hours during the day (at night it could be put to sleep by pushing a button). After its death, a happiness meter gauged the owners patenting skills. In addition to the chicken, there were Tamagotchi puppies and dinosaurs that hatched from an egg like the chicken.

More than 40 million Tamaguchi were sold in two years. In the mid 2000s, a new version called Tamagotchi Plus was introduced. It could befriend and mate with others of its kinds. They sold for about $20 but were seen as out of date because they only had monochrome screens in a world dominated by consoles and had held games with fancy color graphics.


Marketing Tamagotchi Pets

Almost immediately after it was introduced in 1997 in Japan it was a big hit: people slept in the cold outside stores to be first in line for new shipment, some shops sold $9 lottery tickets for the opportunity to buy the $18 toys, a temple in Hiroshima opened up "virtual cemetery" for dead virtual pets, and a 24-hour hotline was set up to console children who lost their pets.

According to one story the virtual pet was invented by Akihiro Yokoi, the owner of a toy consulting company call the Wiz Company. He said he got the idea when he saw a television commercial with a mother scolding a boy about the care of his pet turtle. Yokoi designed the toy for the Japanese toy manufacturer Bandai Company.

According to another account Tamagotchi was invented by a 26-year-old woman named Aki Komikado who worked at Bandai. She hatched the idea in 1994 based on the concept that people love pets. Even though she earned her company $350 millon, she didn't receive a raise or a big bonus. But that didn't seem to bother her much. "Why should I get lots of money? "She told Time. "The real efforts was made by the developers who made our products successful."

Profits and Problems with the Tamogotchi

Seven million virtual pets were sold in Japan within a few months after it was introduced and millions more were sold overseas. One store said it sold 30,000 in three days and one mail order company that advertised on television said it sold 6,000 in five minutes. The toy was so popular hundreds of thousands of counterfeit copies and look alike imitations flooded the market. As of 1997, about 20 million Tamagotchi had been sold in Japan alone.

Around the world the Tamagotchi were banned by teachers and educators, who found they toy's peeping to be annoying and distracting to the students and themselves. One teacher in Hong Kong told AFP, "How can students concentrate. They have to fed, clean the dropping and play with their pets even during lessons."

In Japan, there was a rash of virtual pet thefts from school backpacks and they were even reports of dirty old men using the to toys to lure young schoolgirls. Some psychiatrist also complained that some young children became traumatized when their virtual pets died.

Mushi King

Mushi King home computer game
The biggest video game craze in the mid 2000s was “Mushi King: the King of the Beetles” — a game that involved separately buying cards with images of large beetles’such as the Giraffe stag-beetle, the saw-tooth stag beetle or the Thailand five-horned beetle — on them and various information and feeding them into an arcade machine that show 3-D images of the beetles battling to the death.

Mushi King (“Bug King”) was introduced in 2003 by Sega who made money both from the selling of the cards and from the machines that played the cards. The game and cards were especially popular with preteen boys who fed cards into machines at toy stores and arcades. As of March 2007, 420 million cards and half million copies of the software that allowed the game to be played at home on Game Boy or PlayStations had been sold. At its peak more than 13,000 Mushi King arcade machines were in 5,200 locations.

There are 856 Mushi King cards, each one with a real beetle species. They sell for ¥100 a piece and are available only from the arcade machines. Each card carries a number that measures the beetle’s strength and stamina, which can be enhances with supplemental special “skill” cards. The beetles use moves like those found in profession wrestling. Each has a special Finishing Attack such as a Running Cutter, Tornado throw or Rolling Smash which it use to finish off an opponent.

Cardholders can battle other cardholders or beetles on the machine. The battles begin after the machine scans the bar codes on the cards. Players chose when and how to attack and the outcome is based as much on their skill and the values on their cards.

Mushi King is a make-believe version of an insect fight staged in a small ring such as those held between crickets in China. There is a television animation series that goes along with the game as well as merchandise such as lunchboxes and gloves.

Love and Berry

Love and Berry
arcade game
“Love and Berry Dress Up and Dance” was popular game with kindergarten and primary school girls. Like Mushi King it centered around players purchasing cards that could be fed into arcade machines

Players earn points by dressing up two witches, Love and Berry, and getting to dance. Players chose how the witches will prepare for a dance by feeding “Oshare Maho” (“magic makeover”) cards with hairdos, dresses and shoes into the machines. Participant can earn points by rhythmically pushing buttons as the witches dance with the winner being the one who is most stylish.

The machine charge ¥100 for each card and playing of the game. The machine were installed in shopping malls and arcades in October 2004. As of March 2007, 240 million cards had been sold and a total of 164 cards, with hairdos, clothes and shoes, had been issued with the 88 cards of the 2005 Spring and Summer Collection being auctioned online for ¥10,000. A similar online girls game features Japanese schoolgirls competing in dancing contests.

Explaining the appeal of these games, a Japanese fairy tale author old the Yomiuru Shimbun, “The Love and Berry game is a competition for fashion sense turned into numerical terms.” He said there were similarities to exchanging money and because of the low birth rate even little kids are exposed to designer clothes: “So, even little girls think they can fix themselves up easily.”

The mastermind behind Love and Berry and Mushi King is Hiroshi Uemura, the head of a game development team at Sega that was on the verge of being shut down before the success of Mushi King, which was designed to be a game that parents and children could enjoy playing together.

1) 7), 10), 11), 12) Goods from Japan 2) 8) 5) 9)xorsyst blog 3), 4), Association for the Promotion of Traditional Crafts Industries in Japan 6), Ray Kinnae 3) Goods from Japan 4) Japan Zone, 5) Goods from Japan 13) Love and Berry official site

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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