OSAKA — Portable electronic dictionaries are enjoying rocketing sales in Japan, largely among middle-aged and elderly customers attracted by the devices’ easy-to-read screens and user-friendliness, industry officials say.

Last year, an estimated 2.5 million to 3 million of the pocket-size devices were sold nationwide, up drastically from 1998, when the number hit around 1 million. Sales for 1999 totaled around 25 billion yen.

The trend is expected to continue. Seiko Instruments Inc., a leading manufacturer of electronic dictionaries, predicts sales of its models this year to mark a 50 percent increase from 1999, a company spokesman said.

Masaichi Okita, an official of the mobile systems division of Sharp Corp., said, “More than half the people buying these things are in their 50s and older and have trouble reading the fine print in (print) dictionaries.”

He said the company has been putting its dictionaries on display at home-electronics stores.

“(The customers) realize the devices’ ease of use and convenience, and that has had a good effect on our over-the-counter sales.”

Equipped with small key pads and liquid-crystal displays, the devices are priced from 5,000 yen to 40,000 yen.

High-end models offer a complete Japanese dictionary, an English dictionary plus a Japanese-English dictionary in a single package.

“They contain the equivalent of several books and don’t take up the space that thick dictionaries do,” said Takahiro Narita, a senior staff member of Joshin Denki Co.’s J&P Technoland in Osaka, a high-volume retailer of home appliances.

“These days the customers are from a wide range of backgrounds, from students to middle-aged people,” he said.

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