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New challenges for Japan’s toy market

By Atsuko Tatsumi, publisher, Weekly Toy News (Japan), member of International Toy Magazines Association (ITMA)

31/05/2011

A large area of Japan was devastated by the earthquake and the tsunami

Atsuko Tatsumi, publisher, Weekly Toy News

More than two months have passed since Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented strength. The country is still in trouble because of the damage the tsunami brought to the nuclear power reactor at Fukushima. The supply of electric power to Tokyo and a large area around the capital has been reduced and this is causing frequent black-outs; everyone is invited to contribute to energy savings and the urban lighting is off in the night. Due to radiation leaking from the power plant, there are restrictions imposed by the government on the food coming from the area near to the reactor, an important one for fisheries and agriculture, affecting vegetables, fish and even rice. The population is scared, feeling unsafe in the selection of food.

The area hit by the March earthquake is the North-eastern part of the Honshū island: it comprises 12% of the country’s total population and 90% of it was badly damaged. 20,000 people died and more than 20,000 are still missing. About 100,000 people are now homeless: they live in city halls, schools, hotels or relatives’ or friends’ houses. The conditions are very hard especially for kids and old people, although the government plans to build small houses to host most of the survivors, by summer’s end.

Problems ahead for the Japanese toy industry
The Japanese toy industry, soon after the disaster, has engaged itself in offering great quantities of its products and carrying them to the eartquake area, hoping this way to give some relief to the children.

As concerns the toy business, one consequence of the earthquake and tsunami is the damage to specialist retailers. At least 60 toy shops have been destroyed in the affected area and although some of them are being rebuilt and returning to operativity, for most retailers survival is still difficult. A great amount of money has been donated by the owner of a big toy company in order to assist them; it will certainly be used to go back to work but for people who have lost their houses and stores it will take time – months, a year – to set up their activity again.

As a whole, the Japanese people is badly suffering for what happened and living tough times. Since March 11, the consumer market has generally contracted. The toy business in April registered a 12% decrease compared with the same month of the previous year. Many other industry branches have been affected as well, however, because of damages to their production sites. This is a serious problem for the future of the Japanese economy.

Tokio Toy Show will be held as scheduled

Notwithstanding such difficulties, the Japan Toy Association has decided that Tokyo Toy Show will be held as already scheduled in June 2011, from 16 to 19. It is difficult to forecast the attendance for this edition of our Toy Fair, which is open to the general public on the last two days, usually attracting kids and families in the order of more than 100,000 units.

Due to the situation, the Japanese toy producers have reduced the announcements of new items and no one expects the toy business will do good this year. For instance, it is at the moment very difficult to sell battery-operated toys and the retailers are promoting toys and games that do not require batteries, such as trading card games, jigsaw puzzles, board games, categories which are all performing well. The toy industry is engaged in a promotion campaign about the importance of toys as tools for the kids’ healthy growth. We are sure the Japanese consumers will in any case continue buying toys, probably looking for cheaper ones with good play value, because parents will feel happy if their children spend some of their time joyfully.

The summer holiday period is coming soon but in Japan this year it cannot be enjoyed as before. We all hope we can get back to normal life soon.

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