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Novelty Accessories Make Computing More Fun (November 7, 2005)

Flash drives in the shape of sushi (Jiji)
Computer equipment is usually serious stuff, capable of performing complex tasks and incorporating the latest technologies. However, a new range of novelty peripherals is aimed at injecting a bit of humor and fun into the normally staid world of IT. These products are easy to spot: just look for what appears to be a freshly fried shrimp or some other surreal-looking object plugged into a laptop or desktop.

Sushi Storage Devices
Among these novelty IT devices, the Food Disk series of USB flash drives produced by Yokohama-based electronics maker SolidAlliance Corp. has been the biggest hit. The series debuted in 2004 with the release of the Sushi Disk, designed to look just like a real piece of sushi. In the following months, the company added a range of other food-inspired items to its menu, including devices resembling deep-fried prawns, takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings), dim sum, and mentaiko (cod roe).

Under their novelty exteriors, all these products are drives containing flash memory used to store data from digital devices. They connect to PCs and other devices through a universal serial bus (USB) connection. The prices of the Food Disk products start at around ¥8,000 ($70 at ¥115 to the dollar), about triple the price of conventional flash drives of comparable capacity. Yet despite that and the fact that the unusual shapes tend to make the devices difficult to put in the pocket - which was the original idea of flash drives - the products have been a resounding sales success. Many stores report that they have sold out.

The secret behind this success is the products' highly realistic appearance. The creator of the exteriors is SatoFood Samples, a long established company based in Tokyo's Taito Ward whose main business is making models of foods for restaurants. (These plastic models are displayed by many restaurants in Japan to help customers visualize the dishes on offer.) Each item for the flash-memory devices is hand crafted, with extreme care taken to get the shapes, textures, and colors just right.

On his weblog, SolidAlliance president Kawahara Kunihiro said the food-themed devices were originally developed as souvenirs for foreign tourists. The idea came after company employees saw real food samples in Kappabashi, a Tokyo district where shops selling plastic food models and other catering equipment are concentrated. The company decided to refrain from mass-producing the IT objects out of respect for the exacting abilities of the SatoFood craftspeople, whose skills the company sees as having artistic value.

Expensive Yet Useless
Some novelty IT products border on the bizarre, such one resembling a deep-fried prawn with its tail sticking up in the air and a plate of assorted sushi pieces. But perhaps the strangest item is a USB extension cable in the guise of a plate of spaghetti, which was introduced in July 2005. The device measures 23 centimeters in diameter, is 15 centimeters high, and carries the hefty price tag of ¥24,800 ($215.65).

A product for those who want to bring a bit of tradition to the workplace is the Daru Mouse, a computer mouse shaped like a daruma (a round-shaped good luck charm) that rights itself whenever it is pushed over. Leaning the mouse - manufactured by Actbrise Co. of Takasaki City, a famous daruma-making center - in a particular direction enables the user to control various computer functions.

The proliferation of novelty IT products comes in an age when personal computers and other high-tech devices have become standard features of the workplace and home. The devices' popularity underscores the growing interest among consumers in bringing a sense of fun and humor to their PCs, which have long been purely functional items. More such "PC toys" are likely to appear in the future, even in the normally straight-laced atmosphere of the office, and the market is expected to grow in the years ahead.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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