It seems as though everyday life is getting more and more stressful, and toy manufacturers are coming up with new products they say can soothe mind and body of young and old alike.
At 5-year-old girl’s recent birthday party, a toy dog she received from her parents was the center of attention with her little friends.
Mimi clasped the toy, moved it closer to her nose, opened its mouth and smelled deep inside it. She then passed it around to her friends so they could do the same.
Called Ocha-ken (Tea Dog), the murky-green furry animal is being marketed by Sega Toys Co. “as a cuddly toy that relieves stress.”
The toy, with ears and tail shaped like leaves, emits the smell of “maccha” (powdered green tea) from its mouth. Push its nose and a rubber tongue pops out that feels like the real thing. The toy also barks, sniffs and makes subtle noises to gain attention.
The girl’s mother thinks the toy is popular because today’s children are stressed-out.
“Like most of the kids here, my daughter also takes five lessons per week besides kindergarten — English, piano, ballet, rhythmics and classes at cram school to prepare for elementary school,” she said. “She’s tired just like adults.”
Mikako Harada, Sega Toys’ public relations officer, said the firm has sold 400,000 of the toy dogs, which come in two sizes, since their debut one year ago.
Including its licensed products, Sega Toys posted 3 billion yen in sales at the end of 2002.
Ocha-ken “embodies everything that is trendy at the moment: the healing (‘iyashi’) functions, the scent and tea,” Harada said.
The dog’s squat shape and droopy eyes give people a sense of relaxation, Harada said, and it makes a person think, “He looks totally relaxed — maybe I shouldn’t work so hard.”
The tea scent that comes out of its mouth, used in aromatherapy, is also touted as reducing stress.
With the long faltering economy and worsening employment situation causing anxiety on a nationwide scale, the term iyashi, taken to mean emotional healing, has become a buzzword in the last few years.
Initially, Sega Toys targeted female office workers as Ocha-ken buyers due to its purported tension-reducing properties, as well as children, who would be attracted to the product purely as a toy.
But Harada was surprised that a Sega Toys survey last year found that children also suffer from stress and enjoy Ocha-ken’s healing effects.
“Many children expressed the need for something to help them relax. An elementary school girl, for example, said, ‘I’m tired of going to cram school every day. I long for my healing time with Ocha-ken,’ ” Harada said. “There seems to be less of a gap between children and adults in terms of the need for relief.”
Sega Toys plans to market more so-called emotional-healing products, including Puku2-Angel, a jellyfish doll that sways and slowly floats up and down in a small transparent tube of water. It will sell for 1,280 yen.
Rival companies are also churning out products to get a share of what is considered a profitable market.
Tomy Co.’s Hidamari no Tami (People in the Sun) series is selling well to both children and adults, according to Hiroyuki Ito, executive director of toy department store Hakuhinkan.
Running on solar energy, the humanlike dolls, with smiling or meditative faces painted in pastel colors, slowly nod their heads.
The doll sells for 977 yen. A bigger version, which hums old Japanese folk songs, sells for 1,977 yen.
Kiichiro Sato, an associate professor of child psychiatry at Kitasato University, said there are many aspects of modern society that indirectly cause children stress.
“Sibling quarrels used to be an occasion for learning how to interact, but with the declining birthrate, there are fewer children, and many families have just one child,” Sato said.
Forming relationships can thus be stressful for children, he said, and it is not rare to see kids develop ulcers, even at age 3.
Sato is worried that the recession and societal gloom will aggravate the situation.
“More and more parents now work longer hours so they can keep their jobs. Children are sensitive to adult anxieties, and their mental state is affected. Many fear the future just like their parents,” he said.
Yoko Watanabe, operating officer of Takara Co., said many of her company’s products can help such families smile and recover from stress.
Take for instance its Gorgeous Bath series, consisting of a tube and gold plastic mask. Attached to a bathtub tap, water spews from the mask’s mouth, conjuring up the image of a hot spring.
The latest version is called Cleopatra no Yu (Cleopatra’s Bath), with a golden lion face, which sells for 2,980 yen.
“It contributes to quality time for the whole family, as it could encourage fathers to come home early, with children coaxing them to take a bath together,” Watanabe said.
According to Kennedy Gitchel, deputy director of Takara’s strategic business development section, 160,000 units of the Gorgeous Bath series have been sold since its debut in 2002.
Since Keita Sato took over as Takara’s president in February 2000, the firm has made efforts to transform itself into a “life entertainment company,” creating both serious and “heart-warming” products, including Bowlingual, a canine collar device touted as being able to gauge a dog’s mood by the tone of its barks, and purely humorous products, including the “nanchatte” (just kidding) series, designed to make people laugh.
A legendary masterpiece in the “nanchatte series” is a plastic tissue box cover decorated to look like a woman’s underwear. When a tissue is pulled out of the box, a high-pitched feminine voice cries “i-yaan!” (don’t do it!).
“Of course it’s stupid, but it still makes me laugh every day,” Gitchel said. “How many products do you know (about that make) you laugh every time you use it? Nanchatte products make people relax with humor.”
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