Consider it revenge for Pokemon.
In the country that gave us Ninja Turtles, Sailor Moon, Hello Kitty and, of course, the Pokemon "pocket monsters," scores of Japanese teens and adults lined up in the basement of the Ginza's Sony building Tuesday morning to buy Beanie Babies.
They felt the critters in the palms of their hands, juggling them lightly. They flopped their little bodies forward and backward, turned them over this way and that. They cooed over their cuteness. In the case of Spinner the Spider, who spent more time on the shelves than any of the other 22 Beanies, the shoppers discerned a certain lack of cuteness.
Six years after Ty Inc. introduced the first plastic-bean-stuffed animal--a dog named Spot--someone finally realized that Japan is a natural market for Beanie Babies. Who had that idea, no one will say. Certainly not the reticent Johnny Yo of Yokohama, president of Ty Japan. "We're a very small, very private company," said Yuko Yo, his wife and business partner. Nor will Ty's corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. "It's our policy not to answer any questions," a spokesman said.
Could Ty be looking to this market because the phenomenon has peaked in the United States, with reports of oversupply and supposedly valuable "retired" Beanie Babies not finding buyers?
Whatever the reason, the easy flow of hot kids' entertainment continues back and forth across the Pacific. Japan has Disneyland, Barbie, McDonald's Happy Meals, Toys R Us and now Beanie Babies.
People say that change comes slowly here. But in the case of a product with fad potential, the speed is practically warp. Ty Inc. reportedly has a policy of not advertising--it won't say--but Ty Japan hired the country's biggest ad firm to introduce Beanie Babies, without buying a single ad. A few strategic calls to magazines, newspapers and television stations resulted in feature stories on the latest hit from America about to be sold in Sony Plaza stores. And that was enough.
On the first sales day--last Saturday--the store in the Ginza had 1,500 Beanie Babies in stock. Most went in the first two hours. On Tuesday, Sony Plaza restocked the shelves with more than 2,600 Beanies, and almost all were sold by the end of the day. The 120 tie-dyed Peace bears were gone in less than an hour.
"A friend brought me one as a present from the U.S., and then I saw them on television," said Emi Nishiguchi, 18, standing in line with her mother, still about 30 people from the door. "They're cute."
Cute: The highest accolade. Exclamations of "Cute! Cute! Cute!" came from those who had made it to the shelves.
"They have the three C's--cute, cheap and collectible," said Takashi Matsuo, public relations executive for the advertising giant Dentsu. They're priced at 650 yen, or about $5.75--roughly the same price as Beanies in the United States.
Behind the crowds at the shelves were perplexed everyday shoppers asking each other what was going on, peering over heads at the signs and sounding out the latest addition to the Japanese lexicon: bee-nee bay-beez.
And watching with keen interest was Koji Wakui, who had dropped by for a look and was astonished at the frenzy. He works for the distributor for Tokyo's best-known flower shops and plans to start selling Beanie Babies with floral arrangements next month.
"Do they do that in the United States?" he asked.