Toys are no longer just child's play in Japan, where an ageing population and expanding waistlines have spawned a wave of gadgets to help adults beat stress, battle the bulge or relieve loneliness.
From exercise assistants to dancing robots and nodding potted plants, Japanese toymakers are increasingly turning their attention to grown-ups as a growing market to make up for flagging sales to kids.
AdvertisementThe shift comes amid increased efforts to get people into shape in a country where more than one fifth of the population is aged 65 or older, a percentage expected to rise to 40.5 percent in 2055, according to the government.
"Toy companies are increasingly focusing more on toys for adults due to health worries but also lonelier people as there are more single households as the population ages and fewer women marry," said Sei Toyama, one of the organisers of the Tokyo Toy Show which got underway on Thursday.
Tokyo in April passed a law that requires companies and local governments to measure the waistlines of their employees aged between 40 and 74 years old.
If waistlines for men exceed 83.75 centimeters (33.5 inches) and 88.50 centimeters (35.4 inches) for women, they are categorised as having "metabolic syndrome" and firms will be financially penalised.
In order to encourage workers to walk to the office instead of taking a cab, Bandai Namco Group has come up with the "Taxi Walker" -- a pedometer that acts as a taxi meter with the fare appearing in real market prices.
For a two kilometre (1.24 miles) stroll, the base fare would come up as 710 yen (seven dollars) and increase by 90 yen for every additional 280 meters, showing users exactly how much they are saving by using their own two legs.
"We want employees struggling with metabolic syndrome to actively walk but enjoy doing so at the same time," said a Bandai official at the toy show, where 134 Japanese and foreign firms are showcasing their latest gadgets.
"If they see the number of steps they've taken and the equivalent taxi fare, they will feel elated at how much money they would have saved. That will encourage them to walk more," he added.
Meanwhile Sega is betting that a strikingly realistic potted plant that nods when a person speaks will help lonely or stressed out adults.
The "Pekoppa" two-leafed plant can bow and flap its leaves in response to noise.
"This is useful for people who live alone and have no one to talk to, or for stressed out workers who feel like no one agrees with them," said a Sega official.
"It's perfect for the manager who is frustrated at his subordinate who doesn't listen. It's a plant that can adapt to the mood of the person," he added.
If that doesn't work then Bandai's squishy imitation "Edamame" soybeans -- a popular dish in Japan -- can be popped out of their skins to help workers relieve stress and take their minds off the job.
And for people who are too busy or shy to go out dancing, Sega and Hasbro have teamed up to develop the Ampbot, a two-wheeled dancing robot with stereo sound.
"The Ampbot is for men who like robots and who as children dreamed of living one day with robots," said Sega's Osamu Takeuchi.
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