OSAKA — Demand for electric massage chairs is steadily growing as more and more people seek attention akin to the touch of a professional masseur in the comfort of their own homes.

Massage chairs are displayed at the Joshin Denki electric appliance store in Osaka’s Nipponbashi district.

Industry officials said the market for such products mainly comprises people in their late 40s to 50s, but that younger customers are rapidly boarding the health-related goods bandwagon.

The chairs are a traditional feature of hot spring resorts and have previously been regarded as cumbersome objects that give over-vigorous massages.

Their appeal has grown, however, as their massage devices and aesthetic appeal have been refined.

Domestic shipments came to around 510,000 in fiscal 2000, which ended March 31, up by around 60,000 from the year before, according to industry statistics.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. introduced a new chair this month that features four times as many massage options as the company’s previous models.

The chair caters for a variety of different body shapes and deploys pressurized air to massage the soles of the user’s feet.

A chair made by Sanyo Electric Co. can sense how tense a person’s muscles are by reading data on the user’s perspiration, heartbeat and skin temperature.

It then provides the user with the most suitable massage based on its findings.

Omron Corp. has developed a portable chair that can be folded up after use. Priced at under 100,000 yen, the chair is popular with first-time buyers, according to a company spokesman.

A typical massage chair retails at around 300,000 yen.

Despite the Japanese economy’s deflationary trend and the general demand for cheaper goods, people buying massage chairs are not too fussy about prices, the industry officials said.

“The price doesn’t seem to be a determining factor,” said a spokesman at Joshin Denki Co., a major consumer electronics retail chain in the Kansai region.

“People come to the shop and if they come across a product that gives them the massage they want, they’ll buy it.”

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