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KADOMA, Osaka Pref. — Chocolate eggs are an integral part of Easter celebrations in the West. Although they have yet to catch on in Japan, one particular egg-shaped variety has become a hit here.

The success of Choco Egg, priced at 150 yen each, stems not from the popularity of the chocolate itself but from what can be found inside them — a miniature figure in the shape of an animal, fish, bird or insect.

Shuichi Miyawaki, managing director of Kaiyodo, shows off the surprises inside.

The figures — produced by Kaiyodo, an Osaka-based company — come in nearly 100 different varieties and are said to be so lifelike one expects them to start moving.

In October 1999, Furuta Seika, an Osaka-based confectionary firm that produces the chocolate and deals with the marketing of Choco Egg, put 6 million on the market.

By April, they were sold out, attracting not only children but adults who bought the chocolate to collect the figures inside.

After the hot summer months passed, a new batch of Choco Eggs — containing figures of 24 kinds of Japanese indigenous animals and 35 kinds of pets — hit the shelves Sept. 25 and were quickly snapped up, said Shuichi Miyawaki, managing director of Kaiyodo.

Based in Kadoma, Kaiyodo was founded in 1964 when Miyawaki’s father started selling toy-model kits. His goal was to give everyone, especially children, the opportunity to enjoy making them.

Today, Shuichi runs the company. His father, now 71, designated himself as the curator of a private miniature-figure museum that is located inside the company. The firm’s goal, however, remains the same, Shuichi Miyawaki said.

Kaiyodo is known for its Garage Kit model figures, which are very precisely crafted with detailed shapes and colors.

“The Garage Kits, which are molded in a silicon cast, are different from mass-produced plastic toy-model kits, which are usually produced using a metal cast,” Miyawaki said.

Although his firm’s hand-painted products are no match for mass-produced ones in terms of price, they have a number of faithful “otaku” fans of animation characters, he said.

The company is also known for its delicate dinosaur models.

In 1991, the firm produced dinosaur models — called “Allosaurus vs. Barosaurus” — for the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Miyawaki credits Kaiyodo’s success and reputation to Shinobu Matsumura, 38, who created all the original models for the Choco Egg miniature figure series.

Working with craft knives in Kaiyodo’s workshop in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, Matsumura has crafted a number of original figures for the firm since 1987.

“Without his ability, our Garage Kits could not be successful,” he said. “His work has been highly appreciated both in Japan and abroad, although initially it did not bring much profit to the company.

“But the success of Choco Egg has surely paid off.”

Thanks to the popularity of Choco Egg figures, the firm’s sales in the past year topped 1 billion yen, an impressive amount for a company with only 37 employees, he said.

The popularity of the Choco Egg figures has even prompted three major publishing houses to launch special catalogs of the figures on Sept. 25 to accompany the sale of the new series.

Kenji Takasu, 40, an obsessed collector of Choco Egg figures who lives in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, said that he bought about 500 Choco Eggs to try to collect 100 different kinds of figures.

“You cannot tell what is inside from the package. So if you are unlucky, you could end up with loads of foxes and raccoon dogs, which would make a fool out of you,” he said, adding that his refrigerator is still full of Choco Eggs.

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