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COLUMN ONE

Taiwan's Youth Casts Trendy Eye on Japan

For once, movies, music and fashions from the East--not West--define what's cool. But elders are wary of past and present ties to the island's former colonizer.

May 02, 1997|HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"It's all Asian," says Tomoko Chang, who supervises one of the four all-Japanese cable channels. "There's no gap to bridge. There are so many things in common between the cultures, like traditional values."

Several youths also fondly cite Japan's knack for creating fun little gadgets such as the Tamagotch, a computerized toy whose name means "cute little egg." The Tamagotch has become an overnight sensation in Taiwan and Japan, easily rivaling the Tickle Me Elmo doll's popularity in the U.S.

The gadget is an electronic egg that "hatches" a chick. In response to chirps every few minutes, the toy's owner must then push various buttons to feed, play with, clean up after and discipline the chick, or else it dies.

The Tamagotch craze has caused enough consternation among parents and teachers that a Taipei city official counseled immediate action against the toys, lest they disrupt the children's education and home life.

"We've got to prevent these toys [from] taking over the kids' lives," Chen Yung-teh, a City Council member, told the Taipei-based China Times newspaper.

But, he added, "we can also take the opportunity to instill in them the sense of responsibility that comes with raising a pet."

Elders' Mixed Feelings

It was yet another illustration of the ambivalence with which the older generation views Japan and its influence here, unwilling either to condemn wholeheartedly or embrace unreservedly.

Many recall the clean, educated, efficient society the Japanese established on Taiwan, free of crime, corruption, opium smoking and disease. They speak with open admiration of Japan's economic and technological recovery after World War II.

Still, the rush for Japanese goods among young people puzzles Taiwan's elders.

"I don't know why it happened," legislator Hsieh says. "But you can't stop it."

The trend may yet amount to nothing, some contend.

But that does not resolve Sze's mixed feelings. "I just can't understand why they're interested in foreign Japanese fashion," he says.

"I'm not so comfortable with the Japanese. They're too powerful," he says. "Somewhere in your mind you still think, 'They are Japanese.' You cannot eradicate that from your mentality."

Then he sighs. "But times have changed."

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