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Many of the hottest Japanese action figures — including the Ultraman series of heroes — can be found at Kiddy Land, a popular toy store in downtown Tokyo.
Many of the hottest Japanese action figures — including the Ultraman series of heroes — can be found at Kiddy Land, a popular toy store in downtown Tokyo. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Many of the hottest Japanese action figures — including the Ultraman series of heroes — can be found at Kiddy Land, a popular toy store in downtown Tokyo.
Many of the hottest Japanese action figures — including the Ultraman series of heroes — can be found at Kiddy Land, a popular toy store in downtown Tokyo. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Steven Merrell, a teacher at Zama American High School on Camp Zama, Japan, and his son, Kaden, check out the toys at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s BXtra store on Yokota Air Base.
Steven Merrell, a teacher at Zama American High School on Camp Zama, Japan, and his son, Kaden, check out the toys at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s BXtra store on Yokota Air Base. (Vince Little / S&S)
Staff Sgt. Gerald Benitez of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron and his 5-year-old daughter, Abby, check out the toy selection Friday at the AAFES’ BXtra store on Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Staff Sgt. Gerald Benitez of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron and his 5-year-old daughter, Abby, check out the toy selection Friday at the AAFES’ BXtra store on Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Vince Little / S&S)
Snoopy Town, a popular toy store in downtown Tokyo that stocks Peanuts character merchandise, already was decorated to put winter holiday shoppers in the mood to buy last week.
Snoopy Town, a popular toy store in downtown Tokyo that stocks Peanuts character merchandise, already was decorated to put winter holiday shoppers in the mood to buy last week. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

For her 1- and 3-year-old children, Yokota Air Base resident Stephanie Faircloth buys whatever presents catch her eye — on base or off, even if the toys speak Japanese.

She also brings some hesitant friends with her for off-base toy shopping.

“I adapt really well, so I’m OK (wherever I live),” she said. “I try to find a lot of variety.”

She hits local Japanese department stores and the nearby Toys “R” Us, where she has found a racetrack with self-propelled cars for her son and the newly released Cinderella Barbie for her daughter.

Servicemembers and their families living abroad have an eclectic range of options for holiday toys. On base, exchanges follow the latest toy trends for the season. Off base, there’s a whole new world of options.

In the States, kids still play with Power Rangers. In Japan, youngsters would find that soooo last year. Here, stores sell the more modern Magi Rangers, the next generation Japanese five-member superhero team.

There are robots and anime characters and anything bearing the likeness of the ever-popular Hello Kitty.

Still, for those looking closer to home, base exchanges will feature all the popular brands, including those listed on the National Retail Federation’s 2005 top toys list, according to Sgt. 1st Class Amanda C. Glenn, an Army Air Force Exchange Service spokeswoman in Okinawa.

Exchanges are stocked with many of the latest trends.

“I found a lot of what I was looking for (on base),” Faircloth said.

The retail federation’s list includes Barbie for girls and video games for boys. It also features a few oldies but goodies, such as My Little Pony and Hot Wheels toys.

In general, toy trends in Japan and North America are moving toward retro toys — The Hulk, Care Bears, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Strawberry Shortcake have made reappearances on shelves — and educational, family-oriented toys, according to analysts.

The NDP Group, a market research company that tracks the toy industry, reported last year that the learning and exploration toy category grew the most from 2003 to 2004, while the vehicle, tools and plush toys categories made the biggest drop.

The same is true in Japan, according to Tomonari Sato, a spokesman for Toys “R” Us-Japan, which has stores near every military base in the country.

Popular in Japan this year are “toys that families could play together with,” he said.

Board games that were popular 20 or 30 years ago and the Rubik’s Cube were reissued this year.

“It is nostalgic for the parents’ generation and, for the children who are used to video games, [the older games] are analog and new to them,” he said. “They became popular because parents and children can play together.”

Brain teasers also have regained popularity in Japan. Sega Toys and Nintendo have created games with math equations and simple questions to stimulate young minds and keep adults entertained, Sato said.

The big toy-buying season in Japan starts about the same time as at home, Sato said. So shoppers should be as diligent here as at home to avoid disappointment.

“Some popular items can be sold out,” he said.

Top toys in JapanToys “R” Us-Japan predicts the following toys will be the big hits during the 2005 Christmas shopping season.

Hello Kitty Deluxe Kitchen

4,999 yen (about $42)

Standing about 3 feet tall, features microwave, oven, sink, stove and other kitchen appliances. Also comes with cutting board and toy knife to cut toy vegetables and plates to serve them on.

Sylvanian Family Dollhouse with lights gift set

8,999 yen (about $76)

Dollhouse with furniture for rooms, such as kitchen and bedrooms. The house also lights up and comes with a squirrel father and girl dolls.

Furby 2

3,299 yen (about $28)

The fuzzy bird thing is back. Forty million original Furbys were sold around the world. The new second-generation Furby features more movements, responses and conversation skills and has an “off” button.

Robosaurus TR441J

9,999 yen (about $84)

Robosaurus is a dinosaur robot with artificial intelligence and infrared, sound and motion sensors that allow it to move and respond like a real dinosaur. Modeled after Tyrannosaurus, Robosaurus reacts based on its mood — offensive, cautious or playful. Toys “R” Us is the only retailer that sells this toy in Japan.

Magi Ranger Gold Grip phone and DX travelion set

8,999 yen (about $76)

The evolution of the Power Rangers, Magi Rangers, is all the rave in Japan. The superhero group, called Sentai toys in Japan, features a plethora of accessories including this grip phone used by one of the Rangers to transform and attack enemies. It includes an action figure.

Radio-Controlled biplane STELLANUOVA

6,999 yen (about $59)

This radio-controlled plane is the first biplane toy to use three channels. It’s a Toys “R” Us original. It can fly acrobatically and can change its tires to skies for water surface landing.

— Source: Toys “R” Us-Japan

Top toys in the States

The National Retail Federation surveyed families across North America to compile this list of top toys for 2005:

For Girls:

BarbieBratzDora the ExplorerDisney PrincessVideo gamesiPod/MP3 playersMy Little PonyLeap FrogElmoAmerican GirlFor Boys:

Video games“Star Wars” merchandiseLegosHot WheelsSpider-Man merchandiseXboxThomas the TrainBatman merchandiseBicyclePlayStation 2— Source: the National Retail Federation

What’s hot in toys?

Depends on whom you ask. Retailers might have some suggestions, but other groups go to the experts — kids. Family Fun Magazine sits 1,400 children down for 30,000 hours of playtime each year to find the really coolest toys. According to the magazine’s Web site, the overall big hits this year were:

Top 10 toys of 2005

Knights’ Empire Castle (PlayMobil)3D Pool Table (Zocker Toys)Shake ‘N Go! Speedway (Fisher Price)ChatNow (Hasbro)Slurpee Drink Maker (Spin Master)Darth Vader Voice Changer (Hasbro)Go Go TV (Toy Quest)Pyrates Dread Eye’s Phantom (Mega Bloks)Nylint Rock Crawler (Funrise)Card Kit (American Girl)The magazine also breaks down winners by categories. For more information on a certain age or gender, visit FamilyFun.com. Note that Disney owns the magazine, but none of the Top 10 is a Disney toy, although a few of the makers have have licensing agreements with the corporation.

— Juliana Gittler

Play safe

The Toy Industry Association, the trade association for the toy industry in North America, offers these tips for selecting the safest toys this year:

When shopping for toys, keep in mind the child’s age, interests and abilities.Let the label be your guide. Many toys include a recommended age range, based on children’s developmental abilities, and as a guide for their safety. Look for age ranges and safety warnings on toys or their packages — and follow them — to ensure a “safe pick.”Be especially careful when choosing toys for children younger than 3. For this age, select toys that are free of small pieces (or pieces that separate or can be broken off), are lightweight and have no sharp edges or points.Consider the home environment in which a child will play with a toy and younger children who may be there. A toy intended for an older child may be dangerous in the hands of a younger one.At home, read instructions for assembly and use. Keep product literature in case of future questions, and complete and send in warranty cards.Remove and discard all packaging from a toy before giving it to a baby or small child.Supervise children when they play and set good examples for safe play.Remind caregivers, including grandparents, of play-related safety concerns.Choose a safe storage place for toys.Check toys at least every three months to determine their safety. Make any repairs immediately or throw away damaged toys.— Source: Toy Industry Association

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