Ask your friends what handy fun items they carry around and most of them will mention their Nintendo DS or their mobile phone, on which they can watch TV, play games and read a novel. But more and more these days, they may also grin and say, "puchipuchi" — referring to the pleasure — and the sound in Japanese — of bursting plastic bubble wrap.

It's a phenomenon that's easy to deride for its utter simplicity, but that is precisely its appeal, says Ayaka Sugiyama of bubble-wrap manufacturer Kawakami Sangyo. Sugiyama has been pondering the secret attractions and market potential of bubble wrap popping since she joined the Nagoya-based company eight years ago.

"I have learned that there is a psychological factor involved in bursting bubble-wrap," she says. "It's similar to being compelled to sit if there is a chair or to pull if there is a knob. In the same way, you cannot stop popping if you see Putiputi," she observed, using the brand name that Kawakami Sangyo registered in 1994 for bubble wrap, which the company formerly called just "air bags." Established in 1968, the company now has a 43 percent share of the market in Japan.