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Business trends

Educational products dominate Tokyo Toy Fair

Sega and Gakken showcase toys with programming capabilities

Sega Toys' "Anpanman Drive Car" features popular cartoon character Anpanman.

TOKYO -- Japanese toy makers are seeking to expand their businesses by pouring more emphasis on the production of educational materials, such as toys that teach children the basics of computer programming.

This year's International Tokyo Toy Show, Japan's largest trade fair for toys, drew nearly 200 exhibitors who showcased their recent bestsellers, as well as upcoming new releases. There were about 35,000 toys on display at the event, taking place from June 13 to 16 at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center, which is estimated to have drawn about 160,000 visitors.

Fumiaki Ibuki, a member of the Japan Toy Association who is in charge of organizing the annual toy fair, states that one of the important features for 2019 is "the various toys that have incorporated recent trends, such as programming and English education."

Sega Toys, a subsidiary of Japanese entertainment company Sega Sammy Holdings, displayed the "Anpanman Drive Car," in which you can program the route you want a toy car to take by pushing a combination of buttons. The target age for the product, expected to go on sale this fall, is three years and older. The company "wanted to offer a fun way for children to learn programming," it says.

Sega also unveiled the "Wonderful Channel," a puppy-shaped camera that connects to your home television and reflects your movements on the screen. Using motion capture and a facial recognition system, as well as augmented reality technology, a child is able to play games such as turning into a princess or hiding in a jungle by listening to and reading the English language.

Sega Toys' "Wonderful Channel" puppy-shaped camera has more than 60 channels that can teach children English through fun games.

Japan-based Bandai exhibited the "Koroga Switch Doraemon," which features Japanese anime character Doraemon, a titular robot cat from the future. By assembling and combining blocks and rails to create a course so that a ball can roll towards a goal, a child is able to strengthen his or her logical thinking, a necessity in programming, the company says. Although it is a analog toy that neither uses electricity or other technology, the company expects children to practice their logical thinking through steps like thinking, building, testing and fixing.

Gakken Sta:Ful, a division of publishing company Gakken, showcased the "Newblock Programming" product. This lets kids combine different-colored block parts to make cars or ships. The blocks are programmed to move through a motor or light up with an LED light according to how it was built. "Many parents are reassured about the toy because it does not require the use of tablets or smartphones," says Daigo Imai, from the company's toy planning and production department. "Children are able to learn without distraction."

Gakken Sta:Ful's "Newblock Programming" allows children to bring their imagination to life by building blocks while also learning the basics of programming.

The reason for the emergence of such toys is that computer programming is becoming a mandatory subject in Japan's elementary schools from next April, with the country aiming to train a new generation in sought-after information technology skills.

Parents eager to have their children "programming ready" are on the lookout for toys that will teach basic coding skills and train logical thinking.

According to research by consulting firm Funai Soken, Japan's programming education market for children is expected to be worth nearly 26 billion yen ($237 million) by 2024, 2.3 times that of the estimate for 2019.

The value of Japan's overall toy market in 2018 increased 5% from a year ago to reach 839 billion yen, the highest point in the last 18 years. Meanwhile, the country's population under the age of 15 has declined by 15% during the same period.

Ibuki notes how toys are becoming more diverse. "One reason for the market expansion is the increasing production of toys catering more toward girls."

In 2009, the market for girl-targeted toys amounted to just 22% that of the market for boys. In 2018, it reached 30%.

With most programming and educational toys catering to both sexes, the overall toy market is set to continue expanding in the coming years.

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