Toy sector saw sales rise 3.4% in ’11

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

The domestic toy market logged ¥692.1 billion in sales in fiscal 2011, up 3.4 percent from the previous year for the second straight annual rise despite the sluggish economy, the Japan Toy Association said Tuesday.

“This shows steady demand for toys,” Takeo Takasu, chairman of the association, said ahead of the annual International Tokyo Toy Show that will be open to the public Saturday and Sunday.

“We think this is mainly due to the strong love parents feel for their children, thus spending on them would be the last thing they would want to cut,” Takasu said.

Trading cards were especially popular, posting a 25.2 percent sales increase from a year earlier, while board games and minielectronics games, both of which fall into the “game” category, saw 11.9 percent growth.

The association also announced the annual Japan toy awards under the categories of universal, educational, boys’, girls’, character-themed, innovative, adult, special and hit sales.

Winners included Bandai Co.’s Smart Pet, which won in the innovative toy category, reflecting how toy makers have jumped on the smartphone bandwagon.

The Smart Pet has the body of a robot dog with an iPhone for a face. Users download a free application for the toy and can choose a face pattern they like.

Once the iPhone is attached, the displayed face can change its expression depending on the dog’s mood. It also sneezes.

“Smartphones have really spread widely now, and the trend is coming to toys as well,” said Fumiaki Ibuki, a member of the toy association in charge of organizing the annual trade fair.

Toys that link with smartphones are expected to increase and will be must-see items at the show, according to the association.

Other toys winning awards included Jokki Hour, a mug that can generate smooth bubbles in beer before drinking. It won the adult category, and the fiscal 2011 hit-sales award went to Kamen Rider Fourze Change Belt DX Fourze Driver, a belt chock full of plastic attachments that boys can wear when they imitate the hero of the “Kamen Rider Fourze” TV show.