Elementary school boys in Japan are going wild over a new type of top called the "Bey Blade." A toy is defined as a big hit in Japan if more than a million are produced monthly. Bey Blade's manufacturer is shipping more than 3 million of the tops to market every month, and even at that pace it can't keep up with demand! Toy shops and department stores keep running out.
I talked with Suzuki Toshinobu of Takara Co., Ltd., the toy manufacturer selling Bey Blade. He says, "The top is the biggest hit our company has ever had in the boys' toy market. By the end of 2001, total production will have reached more than 30 million. We never thought we'd sell so many!"
For the first year and a half, Bey Blade commanded a certain degree of popularity, with monthly production hovering between 200,000 and 300,000. But it took off in January 2001 after a new TV anime program began featuring it. Toy industry analysts say that a toy can't become a really big hit in Japan unless it appears regularly in a popular manga magazine series, and is associated with a video game or animated movie. Bey Blade met all of these conditions, and appeals to kids in other ways as well-they can customize it to suit their own purpose, and they can use it to try to knock a friend's top over.
Suzuki adds, "They are cheap, too. And they look a lot like the tops that parents used to play with. Maybe that's why moms and dads are willing to buy them for their kids."
Bey Blade is a modern remake of Beigoma, a top that Japanese people in their 30s and older surely remember. Beigoma swept through playgrounds nationwide from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. It is a cast-iron top about 3 cm in diameter, spun by wrapping a thin cord around it, then letting fly, aiming at another top that is already spinning. The loser is the player whose top either stops spinning first or is knocked outside the playing area.
Bey Blade duels follow the same basic rules. One difference is the trigger mechanism that lets anyone set the top spinning at full power. About the only other innovation is that you can modify Bey Blade easily, making it into your own personal top by changing the combination of five component parts.
Bey Blade's success has spilled over to the older Beigoma. Only one factory in Japan makes Beigoma, and three years ago it stopped production for a while because of a lack of orders, but since the beginning of 2001, output has rocketed as high as 50,000 units per month.
Other toys like marbles and yo-yos have reappeared out of the past with a new twist, then become a hit again in Japan. Even today, in this golden age of the video game, Japanese children are caught up in the fascination of games from another era.
The challenger cries out, "Go shoot!" and lets the top fly. The kids most caught up in the Bey Blade boom are in grades 1 to 4.