WHAT'S COOL IN JAPAN
Have you heard of the Oriental zodiac? It is a way of expressing years, days, and directions. Though it originated in ancient China, it is still used today in many Asian countries. In Japan, everyone is familiar with the 12 animals used to represent years in this zodiac, such as the mouse, the tiger, and the monkey.
Japanese people love the Oriental zodiac. Each year, people send New Year's cards illustrated with drawings of the animal representing the new year, and the animals for a particular year often become popular attractions at zoos. In the Year of the Sheep, many people flock to the Hitsuji (sheep) shrines to make their traditional New Year's Day shrine visit.
2006 will be the Year of the Dog. Since there is no year of the cat, the dog is the animal in the zodiac that is closest to people in their everyday lives and the one that is most loved by children. As 2006 draws near, toys and other products featuring dog characters are popping up all over the place.
One popular dog character is the nonchalant, soothing, peaceful-looking Ocha-Ken (whose name means "Tea Dog"). Ocha-Ken first appeared in 2002 and has already featured in a TV anime (cartoon series) and a video game. As well as stuffed toys, fans of this dog can buy Ocha-Ken clothes. This year, episodes of the Ocha-Ken anime series were made available through vending machines. The episodes can be viewed on portable game consoles. There is even a new Japanese-style Ocha-Ken doll's house available.
In October, toy maker Tomy released a new line of toy dogs called Inugurumi that are dressed up in Mickey Mouse and other popular Disney character costumes. Looking at these cute toys, you might wonder, "Mickey Mouse is a mouse, so why dress a dog up to look like him?" A Tomy spokesperson says, "It's the fascination of something silly and meaningless. As next year is the Year of the Dog, we just thought we'd have some fun dressing dogs up in stylish outfits."
The popularity of robotic dogs also remains strong. While the best known of these is Sony's AIBO, a new dog robot was released early this year by Sega Toys. Called idog, it is a musical entertainment pet that reacts to music and even composes and performs its own tunes.
Many more dog-themed toys and character goods will be coming out as Japan enters the Year of the Dog, so there'll be plenty of opportunities to have fun with canine-themed toys in 2006.