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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 April 2006, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Japan's toys for the elderly

Duncan Bartlett
Business Daily, BBC World Service

This toy may be cute but it's not for Japanese babies

Open up almost any children's toy box and you'll probably find a few toys that were made or designed in Japan.

The problem for Japanese companies is that the country's falling population means that there are now fewer children than before to play with them.

That has led the toy companies to turn to adults as potential customers.

Take the business Tomy, which had a world wide hit with the children's robot toy Transformers.

One of its latest lines is a doll that is selling very well to adult women, especially women over the age of 60.

Canned love

The talking robotic doll tells its owner how much it loves her and welcomes her home when she walks back into the house.

The majority of buyers are retired women who live alone.

Woman with toy
These toys are a big hit with the elderly

"Many elderly people buy these dolls, they think the dolls are actual grandsons and granddaughters," says Yuko Hirakawa from Tomy.

"You can speak to the doll and she will tell you she loves you so much. If you hold the doll, the weight is the same weight as a small infant."

Apparently, it provides comfort for lonely women who hold it in their arms.

Falling population

Tomy recently merged with a rival firm, Takara.

It is just another Japanese company that is facing a harsh reality:

In 2005, for the first time since records began, Japan's population shrank.

By 2050, if current trends continue, Japan could be home to just 100 million people, down from today's 128 million.

Tomy president Kanataro Tomiyama
We are redefining the definition of toys
Kanataro Tomiyama, Tomy president

"The falling birth rate is now a serious problem not just for our country but for our industry, too," company president Kanataro Tomiyama says.

"We have to develop very exciting new toys for the existing children but our strategy is to expand the age range of our toys. We are redefining the definition of toys."

"We go for teenagers, we go for people in their twenties and thirties, we go for housewives, families and for older people too. It's a strange culture but we are very lucky," Mr Tomiyama says

Brain game

Another toy company that has had to tailor its products for adults is Nintendo.

Its "Brain Training Game" has been a hit in Japan with people over the age of 60 who believe it will keep them mentally agile.

The handheld computer game presents a series of puzzles based on mathematics and Japanese spelling.

It also allows players to keep score of how sharp their responses are.

Yet games for adults are nothing new in Japan.

One perennially popular activity is pachinko, a kind of pinball that is played in amusement arcades by adults.

Cash prizes are won by the most skilful players, though many people see it as a relaxing pastime aside from the gambling element.

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