Hideaki Asada bought his second radio-controlled helicopter in two months last week. The first one broke after his 8-year-old son, Keito, crashed the toy during landing.
This one is just for me. Keito has shown he can't be trusted yet, said Asada, 39. Dad likes to fly the 15-centimetre (6-inch) chopper at night, after a long day in the accounting division in an IT consulting company.
It has a searchlight, he said.
With rotor blades that whir with a flick of a switch, it can hover, veer right or left and stay in the air for two hours. Asada's chopper, made by Taiyo Kogyo Co Ltd, is one of several now on market, at prices that range from about 4,000 yen to under 10,000 yen ($35 to $87).
As the population ages and video games provide stiff competition, this holiday season Japanese toymakers are targeting adults like Asada with a line-up of toys that play to their childhood nostalgia as well as their love of high-tech.
CCP Co Ltd, a unit of toymaker Bandai Co Ltd and supplier of radio-controlled choppers to U.S. toymakers, plans to equip their latest models with infrared rays to fly combat missions, retailers said.
That's going to be big. Already there are weekends when we run out of stock of the newest models, said Manabu Kamamura, who works in the toy section of Yodobashi Camera Co in Tokyo's Akihabara district, which has a cluster of electronics stores.
The customers are usually men, ranging in age from late 20s to 50s, Kamamura said.
With the birth rate declining in Japan, toymakers are hoping to gain new revenue from grown-ups, by offering realistic miniatures that make full use of cheaper and smaller motors, chips, sensors and batteries.
Lower prices for components mean that even robots are becoming affordable for the holidays.
Toymaker Takara Tomy last month released its new i-SOBOT, which comes with a camera, gripping hands, 17 servo motors and a gyro sensor for automatic balance. Its 31,290 yen ($272) price is less than one-third of the price of its Omnibot 2000 of the mid-1980s. Tomy targets 50,000 unit sales in Japan and abroad.
Consumers can also buy a kit and build their own robot, for a fraction of the price from five years ago.
You can build a robot for less than 100,000 yen ($870) now that can stand up, walk, do push-ups, back flips and dance, said Yamato Goto, spokesman at Tsukumo Robot Kingdom, a Tokyo retailer that specializes in robots. More people in their 30s to 50s are buying kits such as those made by Kondo Kagaku, he said.
In a genre where sales of even 100 units are a huge hit, we've sold about 3,000 kits in the two years since they've come out, Goto said.
According to the Japan Toy Association, the country's toy market stood at 640 billion yen ($5.55 billion)in the year to March. That was down 6.3 percent from the previous year, as toys came in second to the video game sector in Japan, which is home turf for Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3 game consoles and of game makers such as Square Enix and CAPCOM.
Sega Toys hopes to lift sales to adults by 50 percent in four years to March 2010 to 11.3 billion yen with products such as pet robots and miniature pianos with real keys, and projectors that transform a home ceiling into a planetarium.
But CCP is betting that grown-ups will be looking for cheaper toys. Its Porsche miniatures, built to 1/58 scale with headlights, turbo acceleration and radio controls, retailed this week for 2,604 yen ($22.50).
The company could have lowered cost and price even more by changing the shape of the model cars slightly to fit electrical parts easily. But that would have defeated the whole purpose of creating realistic Porsche miniatures, spokeswoman Megumi Ebisawa said, adding that the CCP hopes to sell 100,000 units by spring.
We want to appeal to men in their 30s and older, she said. They care about the details.