For a country with a declining birthrate (and by extension, the population as a whole), Japan’s toy manufacturers are not showing any signs of giving up.
Granted it hasn’t been plain sailing for Takara Tomy, which was formed from the merger of two troubled toy-makers, but every year they continue to release fun and inventive products.
Now comes this Chupa Chups Ice Candy Maker, which combines the Japanese love for creative cuisine and their innate silliness (don’t let the austerity of some of the classical arts fool you!).
The subtitle for the product is “okashina”, which is a pun, since it can be mean “strange” or “sweets”. And that’s about right: you can create all manner of bizarre but sugary delights with this candy maker.
Just stick your Chupa Chups lollipop (or similar lollipop) into the Ice Candy Maker and use the funnel to add a warm flavored liquid (examples include juices, cola, milk, melted chocolate, cocoa etc).
Then rotate using the handle and the candy will melt off your lollipop in a few minutes, spinning and making a ginormous blob of sweetness. The last thing to do is store it overnight in the fridge and be patient. The next day you will you very own customized ice treat.
With its emphasis on “spinning” fun and making your own customized summer treats, the Chupa Chups Ice Candy Maker also reminds us of Takara Tomy’s hit from last year, the Gurefure Chuchu.
A long time ago, long before we had augmented reality toys or flying gadgets that interacted with your smartphone — long before even anime had really got going and brought with it the toppling mountain of tie-up merchandise… there were other ways to keep kids amused.
Japanese children in the years after the war had tin toys to entertain themselves with, not least of which the beloved ones made by Horikawa.
Most famously Horikawa made tin robots, such as the iconic Star Strider.
Readers who reside in Japan may have seen these kinds of toys in stores that stock unconventional or deliberately off-beat products, like Village Vanguard. You may have wondered what ancient anime they were spin-offs from. Actually, these robots are stand-alone delights and we love how they move!
Horikawa made loads of these kinds of tin (buriki) toys. Sadly, the times were a-changing.
The company went out of business in the Eighties but its heritage was taken up by Metal House, another company and originally a Horikawa sub-contractor, who have been doing their best ever since to keep manufacturing tin toys for new generations.
It’s a tough racket, given that even mega-hitters like Takara Tomy have struggled over the years (hence why “Takara” and “Tomy” joined together) and a cynic might carp that it is all in vain, given the nation’s declining birth rate.
Well, Star Strider robots are still around and frankly, we think these moving, buzzing, flashing ‘bots, while not quite in the realms of the Robi or Honda ASIMO, are nevertheless pretty cool — cool enough that adults, especially the hipster retro-lovin’ variety, would also definitely like them.
Every now and then you come across an idea so neat that you wish the whole world knew about it. And in this case, I also wish I was six years old ago and could experience the joy of playing with this, Nocilis.
The name comes from “silicon” backwards and the objects are special shape-changing rubber toys. Children can play with them, making new shapes or creatures out of a single Nocilis, or combining several to build a colorful customized piece of kiddy architecture!
A square be turned inside out to make a butterfly, a triangle can become a tree, a heart into a leaf. And so on. Cute and clever, you can’t ask for more!
This kind of play encourages creative-thinking, tactile learning and is also guaranteed to keep them quiet and happy for a while at least. It’s not hard to see why Nocilis has already proved an award-winner.
The makers also think that Nocilis are super safe too, even if swallowed, and can be cleaned and sterilized easily.
I actually first came across the toys a few years ago, back when they were still a prototype, but now they are on sale in Japan and can be purchased internationally via the JapanTrendShop.
With toys as innovative as this, it’s criminal that Japan is a country with a declining birthrate.
Remote control or radio control toys are big the world over.
As well as the usual planes, choppers, UFOs and flying “space balls”, though, Japan’s toy makers have given us some more… well, let’s just say more unusual offerings.
Here’s a little selection!
Yes, Japanese summers are roach fests but with these toys you can make the bugs a year-round attraction.
JTT’s latest RC toy is actually this incredible RC Centipede. There are two “species”, both as creep and crawly as each other. Urgh!
Every Japanese home or office I’ve ever been into has had a tissue box. They are a staple of any domestic or working environment, much like a coaster or cutlery.
But did you know that a tissue box could be driven around like a car? No, neither did we till we found this RC tissue box toy. In fact, it’s more like a tray that can fit a tissue box — so there’s also nothing to stop you experimenting a bit with this. Drinks?
And tissue boxes aren’t the only inanimate object that can be zipped around the home. Check out the RC Trolley Cart, though in this case, it’s at least already a kind of transport to start with — and is also actually pretty practical. For example, you could send something small to a colleague on the other side of the office.
Hands up if you hate housework?
The ultimate RC toy for the lazy bones among you, now you can get a toy (or you child who is playing with it) to clean your house for you, thanks to the RC Sugoi Mop.
And if you are even too much of a coach potato to get up and throw away your just-eaten fast food wrappers, then fear not. You now have a Gomiba Go Remote Control Garbage Can so that the trash can come to you instead.
Do you know any other unusual RC toys?
Remember the Tamagotchi? You know, the digital pet from Bandai that was all the rage when it was first released in 1996?
It went on to sell 40 million units around the world but then the boom dried up. People stopped buying the quirky mini handheld “pet” console and the stock was left to collect dust in the Bandai warehouse. Another toy trend had seemingly come and gone.
But then Bandai tried again. It re-launched the Tamagotchi in 2004 and deliberately did not try to start a “boom” — typically a cardinal sin if you value your sales in Japan, which often seems to exist solely on micro booms of products or celebrities.
Instead, Bandai set out to target only female elementary school students, in contrast to the first generation of Tamagotchi, which were bought and beloved (for a while) by people of all ages.
The new series of Tamagotchi, with updated models released almost annually, were specifically catered to the narrower demographic and also enhanced the tech, including cross-device interactivity, such as with mobile phones. The results justified Bandai’s, by local standards, unusual scheme. Sales from 2004 to 2011 tallied in at 39 million — the tortoise, rather than the hare, but no one can disagree that this kind of performance is better for the long run.
The Tamagotchi revival has been seeded by events such as the yearly Tamagotchi Thank You Festa, which for the product’s fifteenth anniversary event attracted 20,000 visitors. Also, the Tamagotchi Department Store, first opened in Tokyo Dome in 2007 and then soon moving to the Serengeti of Japanese youngsters that is Harajuku, has played a big role in keeping interest in the series alive — and also providing a place for fans to come and congregate.
In the store you can get not just Tamagotchi models, but also Tamagotchi sweets, cuddly toys, clothes and stationery. Heck, it even offers Tamagotchi donuts!
The bad news for overseas fans is that Bandai is not pushing Tamagotchi globally anymore, it seems, though at time of writing, the Tamagotchi iD L is available from the Japan Trend Shop for worldwide shipping.