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October-December 2000

365 Days Birthday Teddy

Like girls anywhere in the world, Japanese girls love chocolate. If a free prize is attached to the chocolate that captures their hearts, it's only natural that its popularity would go through the roof.

After buying chocolate at a supermarket or convenience store, recently the first thing the girls take out of the box is not the chocolate. It's a small teddy bear. Then, when they open the tag attached to the bear, they may be extremely happy or disappointed. They often don't notice the chocolate in the box for quite some time.

These small teddy bears that come in the same box with chocolate drops are about 8 centimeters (3 inches) tall, and the product is called 365 Days Birthday Teddy. Written on the tag are the teddy bear's birthday and name. As the name suggests, there are 365 different types of teddy bears, each one with its own name and birthday. For example, the bear born on February 5 is named Yumi, the one born on October 10 is called Rika, and the bear whose birthday is December 19 is called Jimmy. In addition to different names and birthdays, the bears have different patterns, like checkered, patchwork, polkadots, and stripes.

Many people attach the bears to their bag, keys, or cellular phone. Not surprisingly, most people seem to want the one with their own birthday. Giving a friend the bear that shares his or her birthday also makes a really cool birthday present. Meanwhile, some people like to collect bears whose birthdays have a special significance to them. Each person has his or her reason for wanting a particular bear or bears. Some people may even want to collect all 365.

There is one difficulty involved in collecting the bears, however. Although you can see the bear through the plastic window in the box, you can't see its name or birthday: The tag, on which the information is printed, is folded in two inside the box. Everyone looks through the boxes at the storefront, looking for a favorite bear, so it is quite a commotion. But girls love these handmade teddy bears because they are cute and only cost 180 yen (1.57 U.S. dollars). They keep buying these teddy bears until they find the one they are looking for.

The product went on sale in July 2000 in the Nagoya area and came to the Tokyo area in November. The chocolate is so popular that occasionally the manufacturer can't keep up with the demand and has to temporarily cancel sales in some areas. In response to the overwhelming popularity of 365 Days Birthday Teddy, the company set up a section all about the bears on its Website. The section introduces all the bears' names, birthdays, and designs, so that people know just what sort of bear to look for in stores.

Still, sales continue to boom. On January 16, 2001, these bears went on storeshelves in the Osaka area. The product's popularity was so great that the factories couldn't keep up with the demand, and the manufacturer had to stop sales within a week. How long will this explosive demand continue?

Photos: (Top) From left, Naomi, Toshi, Kanna, and Chikage; (middle and bottom) each box contains one teddy bear and a small pack of chocolates.