Robotic pets, also known as robo-pets (not to be confused with the actual Robopet), are making something of a return to the shelves of stores in Japan in a valiant effort to buck the trend of local toy manufacturers’ sales declining as the birth rate falls.
We all remember the days when Paro and AIBO first burst into our lives. Now such robotic and interactive animal toys are pretty standard. But let’s take a look at some of the new entries in the market and also take a trip down memory lane while we’re at it.
Back in the 1980′s Tomy (long before it merged with Takara) launched a successful range of robotic toys called Omnibot. They included such high-tech functions as an integrated cassette player (no sniggering at the back!) and could carry things for you if you were lazy enough. Omnibot’s reign in the hearts of kids and geeky teens was brief but it has made a bit of a comeback, at least in name. Takara Tomy have borrowed the brand for two recent new robo-pets.
The Omnibot Hello! MiP is a two-wheeled robot that can dance for you and even carry your drinks!
Things have certainly moved on since the original Omnibot. No cassettes in sight here. reThe Hello! MiP can move around by motion sensors responding to your movements — e.g. place your hand in front of it — as well as be controlled by your phone.
They also released the local Japan version of Zoomer, renaming it the Omnibot Hello! Zoomer, an interactive dalmatian that can understand 45 English and Japanese words.
Takara Tomy’s awesome line of motion-activated samurai warrior were also christened the Omnibot Battroborg as a nod to the earlier toys.
In the late 1990′s we saw a more serious and forward-thinking application of home robo-pets with the Paro, the healing seal designed for the elderly and hospital patients who need some therapy from a cute companion.
But for many, the robotic pet will always be the AIBO, the massive hit for Sony (how it must dream of those days now) in the second half of the 1990′s.
It was rivaled by the Poo-chi in the early 2000′s, a collaboration between Hasbro and Sega.
This has also been updated with the Heart Energy Poochi, which Sega hopes will replicate some of the success of the earlier dog. Since our lives now have other devices in them, inter-device communication seems to be the trick the makers are playing now. In the Heart Energy Poochi’s case, it can interact with your Nintendo 3DS. And it goes without saying that he likes being stroked but will respond badly if you pull his tail.
Bandai also got in on the canine act a few years ago with the Smartpet Robot Dog, which lets you slot your iPod or iPhone into the dog’s head to make a face out of the screen. No animals were harmed in the development of this product!
Another classic in the genre is the Yume Neko Dream Cat by Sega Toys, which has very realistic internal sensors that respond to your touch. It started off as an interactive robotic cat, though it was followed by other animals like chicks, squirrels, puppies and rabbits.
The Yume Neko was given an update by Sega Toys recently as the Yume Neko Dream Cat Celeb, providing all the cute interaction of a feline friend without the hassle or mess. This is particularly important in Japan where many people living in apartments are not allowed by the landlord to own real pets. They turn to cat cafes and robots instead.
Of course, this isn’t just domestic manufacturers. The plush toy Furby is also undergoing a bit of a revival here, with Takara Tomy distributing the new model from Hasbro that responds to English commands and has upgraded eyes.
It forms part of a post-2010 trend for “huggable” plush robotic toys, the most sophisticated of which are aimed at helping infants and older kids sleep. The Hug & Dream Mickey and Minnier were big hits, though they were preceded by Takara Tomy’s pioneering Issho ni Nenne “womb doll”, which helped babies get better sleep cycles.
And big surprise, this has also been re-launched fairly recently as three new Disney character and Pooh versions.
Transformers, Anime in Disguise: Chogokin Chogattai SF Robot Fujiko F Fujio Character Robot is an amazing six anime character combo!Written by: Japan Trends on July 15, 2014 at 10:14 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments
While the latest Michael Bay Transformers movie is shooting up the box office around the world (though not yet in Japan), it’s worth taking a look at a pretty spectacular local Japanese version. A veritable manga character Transformer!
Celebrating 80 years since the birth of Hiroshi Fujimoto, one of the manga-writing duo Fujiko Fujio, here is Bandai Tamashii’s Chogokin Chogattai SF Robot Fujiko F Fujio Character Robot! We don’t know how to begin describing this. It is made up of SIX Fujiko F Fujio (Hiroshi Fujimoto) characters that combine into one model. The “SF” in the name stands for both “sci-fi” and “sukoshi fushigi” (a bit mysterious), while “Chogattai” is a play on the name of the series (Chogokin) and means “super combo”.
How’s your anime and manga character knowledge? How many of the “parts” can you name?
Okay, here’s a spoiler: The cast is made up Doraemon, Dorami (Doraemon’s sister), Perman, Korosuke (from Kiteretsu Daihyakka), Chinpui, and Gonsuke (from 21emon).
If you wondering what that big thing the Chogattai is carrying, it’s artist Fujimoto’s iconic red beret hat and pen. Another accessory included is the popular time machine from the Doraemon series.
This rather strange but also rather awesome model/toy will get a release in late November.
Chogokin (literally “super alloy”) is a series of die-cast metal toys and models that first appeared in the late 1970′s. It’s pretty geekily Japanese — after all, who names a series after a fake material?! It is undergoing something of a revival at the moment. It’s the 40th anniversary of the model series owned by parent company Bandai, who now release the series through its Tamashii arm.
In recent years Chogokin has only been known for superior scale models of bullet trains, GX-64 Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and other modes of transport. However, of late we have seen an incredible Chogokin Hello Kitty there are more original releases to come, it seems. Look out for a Chogokin model based on the iconic Tower of the Sun by Taro Okamoto!
It’s hard to believe that Sanrio’s most successful creation and Japan’s most famous cat is 40 years old!
It’s true, Hello Kitty turns 40 this year and to celebrate Sanrio is teaming with Bandai to offer a special Chogokin model version of the feline character.
This isn’t just a random collaboration. Popy’s Chogokin models are also 40 this year and while the two series typically attract different kinds of fans, there’s nothing like an innovative pairing like this to inspire a new generation of fans.
Behold the Chogokin Hello Kitty Robot.
Kitty is of course actually meant to be British, which the official video for the toy references at the start. The toy she drops in the pond is from Mazinger Z, the manga and anime which featured the fictitious material chogokin (“super alloy”) and was the genesis for the series of die-cast metal robot and character toys.
The idea is that Kitty updated into a Chogokin Hello Kitty Robot by a fairy as a reward for being honest. The new Kitty can swim underwater (“Dive Mode”), fly in the sky (“Flight Mode”) and even do battle with black cats (“Fight Mode”) with a powerful “Robot Punch”.
While she isn’t an actual robot — sorry, you have to make her move yourself — the attention to detail is impressive, not least all the functions (the aforementioned “Robot Punch” and changing eyes), plus there’s even a mini Kitty who sits inside the head as the “pilot” — just twist Kitty’s ribbon to open up the capsule!
The Chogokin Hello Kitty Robot Model will be released in late June.
Projection mapping has really taken off in Japan.
Recently we have seen Tokyo Station being transformed in a video spectacle, as well as the Yokohama Odyssey event at a historical dockyard, and even Kyary Pamyu Pamyu turn Tokyo Tower into an interactive digital theme park.
Now you can have projection mapping on Tokyo landmarks in your hand with the Hako Vision by Bandai. It uses a special app on your handheld device to conjure up a video spectacle courtesy of Ryotaro Muramatsu (Naked Inc.).
There are two versions: Tokyo Hikari Vision (at Tokyo Station) and Karakuri (at the Tokyo National Museum). Tokyo Hikari Vision is a fairytale spectacle, while Karakuri is a lively trip through time, filled with historical motifs.
But you don’t need all the wizardry and technical know-how of real projection mapping to operate this light show. All you need to do is read the code on the box and then set your device on top, turning the box into a mini theatre on your hand.
But it’s not all just contemporary digital technology. Actually Bandai is making a nice rift here on something quite old. Shokugan are kinds of “small world” toys where you would get a box with a toy and candy in it. These are still popular today and you can find a corner of a supermarket with sets of toys and sweets. Bandai sees the Hako Vision in this vein and as such has included a piece of candy with the box.
And for the anime fans, there are also these two Mobile Suit Gundam versions, available in either RX-78-2 Gundam or MS-06S ZAKU II models, currently set for release in the spring.
The Koppu no Fuchiko (“Fuchiko on the edge of the cup”) by Kitan Club and Katsuki Tanaka was first released in 2012 as a Gashapon capsule toy. In a nutshell, it’s a series of cute figurines of an Office Lady (OL) in various poses.
Doesn’t sound like much to make a fuss about, right? Well, if you think that then you are obviously not a Japanese consumer!
It proved a bit huge hit for Kitan Club, who quickly followed up with other capsule toy series in 2013. And then came the merchandise. Now there are notepads, cups, t-shirts, bags, socks… Fuchiko is everywhere!
Who is buying Fuchiko’s goodies? We thought geeky guys at first but then we came across female consumers in their thirties who were avidly purchasing all the kawaii Fuchiko stuff they could lay their hands on.
Japan has a bit of an obsession with “small” stuff, especially girls.
There is plenty of chibi (“runt”) in manga and anime, and typically means the kind of SD drawings of girls popular in various forms of otaku culture. It has even spawned its own sub-genre of “shrinking girl” erotic manga (ero manga) called Koonago (*NSFW*).
Traditionally one of the archetypes of beauty was the hattoushin bijin, a girl with a head one-eighth the size of her body. This is still used as a compliment for certain fashion models with doll-like proportions.
We have long ago run out of those “standard” Japanese gifts that we can get away with sending out relatives back home. You know the ones, right? Green tea. Chopsticks. Sake cups. And so on. What happens when you run out of ideas?
Well, if you look around, though, there are loads of cool gadgets, designer accessories, toys and household items that will make great and unexpected gifts.
The follow is just a very small sampling of the range of lifestyle and tech products available from the JapanTrendShop.
Learning can be fun and awe-inspiring, as Gakken is well aware. That’s why they created this remarkable Worldeye, a dome screen that offers you a realistic visual experience of the world. Discover science and geography like you never knew you could with this projection globe, featuring high quality images of world altitudes, seismic faults, forestation, bird migration, wind patterns and more.
Be smelly no more with these Deoest Odor Eliminating Deodorant Underwear, which has been designed to kill some 95% of gas and sweat and other foul odors. It might look like an ordinary pair of boxers but the Deoest Odor Eliminating Deodorant Underwear by Inodore has nano-level ceramic and metallic ions that fight and break down stinky particles. A life-saver!
This has been around for a few years now but it still looks great, and super practical too! Product designer Masayuki Kurakata knows how important it is to consider even something so banal as an extension lead, and that’s why he came up with the Plugo by Monos, a donut-shaped three-plug receptacle and extension lead.
This “microfiber hop ball” is one of the funnest in the recent trend for robotic vacuum cleaners in Japan. The Mocoro might sound like a bizarre but sophisticated piece of technology — a colorful “fur” ball that rolls automatically around home cleaning — but actually its beauty lies in its simplicity. All you need to do is clean the furry cover and then let the ball do the rest!
Not for Christmas per se, but you can celebrate New Year in a unique way with this. The Japanese send each other New Year postcards rather than Xmas cars. These are called nengajo and can be rather generic, though a lot of people write or even paint their own. Now you can be really unusual with this Nanoblock 2014 Nengajo Horse New Year Card, that uses the popular micro blocks to build a horse and bird model. (2014 is the Year of the Horse in Japan.)
This is for the gadget-lovers out there. This Hybrid Hard iPhone5 Protective Film is getting great reviews locally. Smashed screen? Scratched display? These will be problems no longer with this Hybrid Hard iPhone5 Protective Film. The Hybrid Hard is easy to apply and keep clean, and is made from Acier, a UV cure type hard coating solvent, combined with a transparent SHORAYAL film. Highly resistant to abrasion and shocks, it also protects against pesky fingerprints.
Another gadget, this time from Thanko, who know a thing or two about unusual gizmos. Keep yourself powered up for work whether it’s winter (or summer) with the USB Cup Warmer, Cooler Holder. Just connect your computer or other device’s USB port to the cup holder and it will maintain a cool or hot temperature perfect for continuing to enjoy your drink no matter how long that presentation takes you to finish. After all, when it’s winter and you’re keeping yourself warm with a hot cup of tea, the last thing you want is it to cool down. And likewise, in the summer, you want a drink that stays chilled.
For lovers (young and old) of kawaii and Japan’s favorite cat character, this Pop Up Pirate Hello Kitty is based on the 1975 Pop-up Pirate toy where you have to place swords in the barrel until the pirate jumps up. This time the buccaneer is super cute, as Kitty-chan always is!
Heck, if this isn’t enough for you, check out all the other Hello Kitty items there are!
It used to be that Gashapon capsule toys were ostensibly just for kids who wanted to collect and play with small toy items and character figures from their favorite anime, games and comic book series. Of course, there was always another group of geeky adult collectors, too, who had a little bit more freedom to use as much as money they wanted to spend on Gashapon, in pursuit of finding the rarest character. But now Gashapon are for everyone, even office workers.
Gashapon are sold in small plastic capsules that you buy from special “crank” vending machines, usually to be found in rows around certain kinds of stores, especially electronics stores. The world of Gashapon, as with many other toy products, has certainly evolved from having its sales rely in large part on already popular entities in the market to finding and promoting its own original toys.
Two series from Kitan Club, Dogeza Straps and Fuchiko on Cups have gained popularity among office workers for obvious reasons. While Dogeza Straps show the resilient spirit of salarymen posing in the ultimate physical position for begging called dogeza (pay close attention to his face too!), Fuchiko is dressed up in the typical office uniform worn by many female workers, especially those who work as receptionists and secretaries at giant corporations.
Kitan Club has released several different versions of Fuchiko, but this is their first series. There is a distinctly moe flavor to Fuchiko, wouldn’t you say?
Bandai’s smartpants might be the last thing you’d want for your phone, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have another one or two sets of underwear in the closet, right?
This past summer, they released a Mt. Fuji version, which nicely coincided with Japan’s tallest peak being awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
From Bandai, there is one more we just can’t overlook. It’s a key chain that lets you openly pick the nose in public. The series title might be too obvious but is well marketed: Hojirerun-desu – or “You can pick this nose.”
Just remember. The point of these capsule toys is not to ask about the point. It’s not only the product that you purchase with 200 yen — but the thrill that comes from the act of turning the crank of the vending machine, knowing that inside the capsule might just be that extra special toy in the series you have spent months looking for… or just another copy of the same figure you already have in your bulging collection.
The Japanese language is a creative thing, not least due to its multiple scripts — kanji ideographs, and the syllabaries hiragana and katakana, plus there is distinctly Japanese use of the Roman alphabet. All of this means the language is a dream for copywriters churning out phrases for advertising and is one of the reasons why posters and ads — especially those inside trains — feature so much text.
Kanji and kana are visually complex, making them hard to learn in some ways but also a bountiful source of fun. Kids can also get a lot from playing around with scripts while at the same time learning.
One of the most famous is the Henohenomoheji “face” you can make with seven hiragana characters.
Now comes this Mojibakeru Kana, a series of animal shape toys that you can put together to form kana letters — and vice versa. The name comes from mojibake, which is the local word for garbled text, like when a computer file goes wrong and all you can see are lines of gobbledygook.
There are Bird, Monkey, Snake, Squirrel or Elephant versions. The separate kana shapes both spell out the animal’s name in Japanese, and then can be combined to make a typographical version of the creature.
If drinks and manga are more your thing, then you make ice or chocolates in the shape of katakana comic book “sound effects” with the Manga Kori Comic Ice.
Finally, another one we also like that also uses sound effects is the Onomatopoeia Sound Karuta Card Speaker Game, which mixes audio with cards while testing your listening skills and vocabulary.
The “dealer” slots a card into the back of the included speaker, which then belts out the word, which is a sound effect you can find in manga. Grab the right corresponding card from the deck in front of the players to score a point! There are actually several games you can play, depending on the number of players, including quizzes to see who can make regular words by connecting different onomatopoeia sounds that the speaker barks out.
These kinds of toys are also great for anyone studying Japanese or who loves the language.
After years of campaigning, Mt Fuji, Japan’s highest peak and an ingenious piece of natural symmetry, was recently finally elevated to that status that perhaps of all people the Japanese seem to be obsessed with — UNESCO World Heritage.
This has led to a flurry of media excitement as well as lots of tie-in merchandise, plus some beard-stroking from pundits about how to preserve what is essentially a sacred mountain but is “climbed” (more like strolled up) by hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.
Well, you could also just put that all aside and get your hands on some Mt Fuji Smart Pants.
Unless you are a micro person you might have some serious trouble fitting into these, but nonetheless your mobile wardrobe is now complete with Bandai’s summer line-up of Gashapon toy capsules, which includes this remarkable — profane? — mini upside-down Mt Fuji.
You clip it onto the top of your smartphone (hence the “smart” in “smart pants”) and then you have Japan’s most famous mountain as a kind of phone bandana-cum-underwear.
There are eight versions, all in the
Mt Fuji — sorry, pants shape, but with colors varying from stripes to dots to even rather menacing pink “spikes”.
The series — actually Bandai’s second like this — go on sale at Gashapon capsule vending machines in late July.