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Japan is making fewer kids, so who's buying all the dolls?

As toy makers begin to target adults, a cuddly companion called Purimopueru is a hit with older women.

July 01, 2008|From Bloomberg News

Purimopueru is a knee-high Japanese doll with soft, apple-spotted cheeks and big, black button eyes. It comes in green and pink, and when you cuddle it, it talks back.

It's for grandmothers.

The doll, an award-winner at last week's Tokyo Toy Show, is generating new sales among the elderly for creator Namco Bandai Holdings Inc. as Japan's birthrate drops.

Japan is the first developed country to register more annual deaths than births, and the elderly will outnumber children by 2 to 1 within five years, according to the country's Health Ministry.

"There just aren't as many kids anymore," said Fumiaki Ibuki, 57, a member of the committee that plans the Tokyo Toy Show. "The industry is addressing the problem by widening its target age."

Bandai, which markets 20% of its toys to adults, started the Purimopueru line for children in 1999. It's now Bandai's best-selling doll with more than a million bought, mostly by women in their 50s and 60s, said the product's creative director, Hiroko Tajima. It sells for about $75.

Bandai's Purimopueru, whose name combines the Italian for "first" and the Latin for "boy," is touted as a new family member that can be taught to talk and sing.

The doll can "master" up to five songs and 380 words in the course of a year, provided it gets cuddled and talked to, according to the company.

"Families are living apart these days, so grandkids are giving the dolls to their grandmothers and daughters are giving them to their mothers," said Bandai's Tajima, 24. "It's a little odd, but the dolls become like a substitute."

The company sponsors a mock nursery school commencement, a birthday party, and even hot spring trips for the dolls and their "parents."

Another Bandai offering at the Tokyo Toy Show was a pink heart-shaped piggy bank about the size of a grapefruit that flatters adult women with sweet-nothings when they drop money in. It says things like "Come here. Let me rub your shoulders" or "I never want to be apart from you."

Hiroko Ono, 27, inventor of the Ikemen (or Handsome Man) bank, says she got the idea talking with girlfriends.

"A lot of women think, 'If I only had a handsome boyfriend or if only I was rich, I'd be happy,' " Ono says. "This piggy bank helps you save money and gives you a taste of romance."

When an owner of the Handsome Man bank deposits a total of 50,000 yen, about $470, the courtship comes to an end. At that point, the bank proposes marriage.

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