Japan’s Resurgent Toy Market: The 2015 International Tokyo Toy ShowEconomy
Figures from the Japan Toy Association make it clear that toys are a booming business in Japan once again. In a particularly bright segment of the market, sales of character toys for boys surged 78.6% to ¥79.9 billion in fiscal 2014, led by sales of toys related to Bandai’s Yo-Kai Watch series. Also robust were sales of hobby-craft items for young girls and sales of analog products based on traditional Japanese toys.
Toy Sales in Japan (¥ billion, fiscal years from April 1 to March 31)
Source: Japan Toy Association
The Yo-Kai Watch Phenomenon
Bandai’s Yo-Kai Watch series of toys, which builds on the storyline of a video game from the developer Level-5, has taken Japan by storm since its launch in 2013. The toys have inspired cartoons, comic books, and even movies. Headlining the product family is the DX Yo-Kai Watch Type Zero. Bandai has sold some 3.5 million units of this product, which can be programmed with a large and growing array of insertable medals. The DX Yo-Kai Watch Type Zero received the award for the best-selling product of the past year at the International Tokyo Toy Show 2015.
The Yo-Kai Watch narrative begins with an encounter between the hero, Keita, and a ghost (yōkai), Whisper. Keita is hunting insects when he happens upon a dispenser of toy-containing capsules at the base of a tree. Opening one of the capsules, he inadvertently liberates Whisper, who was confined inside. The grateful Whisper presents Keita with a watch that enables the boy to see into the world of ghosts and other mysterious spirits. Keita befriends one spirit after another and draws on their powers to solve problems encountered by his fellow villagers.
Bandai’s extensive line of medals for the Yo-Kai Watches enables users to summon different spirits and to add and mix spirit characteristics. The merchandising is an impressive combination of spirit-world fantasy and tech-trinket reality.
A Problem with Video Games
Since the toy market as defined and monitored by the JTA includes video game consoles as well as conventional toys, weakness at Nintendo, and in the video game sector in general, has undermined Japanese toy sales in recent years. Sales have also suffered from Japan’s low birthrate and the consequent decline in the number of children.
Japan’s toymakers are taking heart at the recent upturn in toy sales, which has been evident from the heightened energy level at the past two installments of the International Tokyo Toy Show. The 2014 show drew 157 exhibitors, including 25 foreign companies, and attracted more than 160,000 visitors. Early returns suggest an even larger turnout for the 2015 show, held on June 18–21 this year.
Bandai’s Gundam series of plastic models, which debuted in 1980, received special recognition at the 2015 show, being awarded by the organizers for its long-lived, global popularity. Consumers in Japan and worldwide have purchased some 445 million Gundam models over the past 35 years.
The product awards at the ITTS, which invite consumer attention to outstanding products, include seven category-specific prizes, listed below.
Best-in-Category Award Winners at ITTS 2015
|Category||Product and manufacturer|
|General||Color-sensing pen for applications with Apple and Android tablets, Takara Tomy|
|Educational||Interactive mat for developing mental and physical skills in young children, JoyPalette|
|Boys||Mechanical baseball game, Epoch|
|Girls||Jewel Watch, Sega Toys|
|Communication||Himitsu no Kuma-chan (talking teddy bear), T-Arts|
|Innovation||Linear Liner L0 Series (magnetic-levitation train set), Takara Tomy|
|“High target” (adult)||Nano Falcon DigiCam (camera-equipped, ultrasmall, remote-controlled helicopter), CCP|
Toys’ Evolving Possibilities
Visitors to the ITTS this year also got a glimpse of the future of Japanese toys. The JTA characterizes that future with the phrases “dream fulfilling,” “wearable,” “interactive and communicative,” and “neoanalog.”
A dream-fulfilling toy of special note is Takara Tomy’s Linear Liner L0 Series, the winner of the best-in-category prize for innovation at the show. Central Japan Railway Co. has started work on a magnetic-levitation high-speed train line that the planners envision as connecting Tokyo with Osaka. The completion of even the first segments of that line will fulfill a longstanding dream among numerous Japanese. Takara Tomy’s remarkable train, just 1/90 the width of the actual thing, uses the same basic magnetic-levitation technology as the real train system and reaches scale speeds of more than 500 kilometers per hour. “L0 Series,” incidentally, refers to the rolling stock being developed to run on Japan’s magnetic-levitation train line.
Another dream-fulfilling toy that garnered attention at the show is Epoch’s mechanical baseball game. This product, the best-in-category prizewinner in boys’ toys, marks a new stage in the evolution of a traditional toy. Show visitors raved about the lifelike action.
Wearables and Flyables
Toymakers have been quick to capitalize on the wearable trend in information technology products. Sega Toys’ Jewel Watch, for example, was the best-in-category prizewinner in girls’ toys at the International Tokyo Toy Show. It is, of course, far more than just a timepiece. Jewel Watch owners can use the touch panel to summon any of some 300 video games and other amusements.
CCP’s Nano Falcon DigiCam is an ultrasmall, remote-controlled helicopter equipped with a camera. More drone than toy, this flying apparatus takes still photos and video footage that users can view on computer screens. It captured the best-in-category prize for “high target” (adult) toys at the ITTS.
An adult orientation was also evident in the numerous toys on display at the show featuring Star Wars themes. The latest entry in the Star Wars franchise will begin screening in Japanese theaters this December, and toymakers are moving to tap the expected surge in Star Wars–related demand across multiple generations of consumers.
Typifying the “neoanalog” movement in Japan’s toy market is Kinetic Sand, a product created by Sweden’s Waba Fun and marketed in Japan by Rangs Japan. An innovative bonding agent in the sand allows for enjoying sandbox fun indoors without scattering the sand or soiling home interiors. Another neoanalog product is Bandai’s Kendama Cross, a modern incarnation of Japan’s traditional cup-and-ball game.
(Originally written in Japanese by Harano Jōji of Nippon.com and published on June 23, 2015. Banner photo: A flyable highlight of the International Tokyo Toy Show: CCP’s remote-controlled Nano Falcon DigiCam helicopter, complete with onboard camera [June 18, 2015; Tokyo Big Sight]. © Jiji.)