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A Chicken in Every Pocket: By Kevin Sullivan Washington Post Foreign Service Saturday, January 25, 1997; Page A01 [An excerpt... -psl] TOKYO, Jan. 24 -- By dawn today, a line of almost 2,000 people stretched a quarter of a mile through the Ginza shopping district. Hundreds of them had spent the night camped out on the sidewalk in the numbing midwinter cold. When you want a toy chicken badly enough, you will endure anything. "It is my responsibility to nurture it and help it grow; if I do not, its face will turn vicious and it will become a gangster chicken, then it will die," homemaker Kwon Myong Mi, 33, said earnestly, explaining why she waited hours in line to pay $18 for a Tamagocchi, the hottest new fad tearing across Japan. The Tamagocchi, which translates as "cute little egg," is a key-chain computer game about the size and shape of an egg. The game starts when an egg on the display screen hatches and a chicken is born. The owner then uses three tiny buttons to feed, play with, clean up after and discipline it. Unlike most video games that are over in a few minutes, this one can go on for days. With proper care, the chicken grows. If the owner forgets to feed it, it sounds a loud "peep peep peep" of complaint. If the chicken poops and the owner doesn't clean up, it peeps even louder. The owner can tickle it with the press of a button, or take its temperature and give it injections of "medicine" if it seems ill. Ignore the chicken, drop it on the subway, forget it at home or neglect to tickle it often enough, and it will grow sickly and mean-looking. Eventually it will die. Game over. The implication: You loser. You can't even keep a fake chicken alive. More than 500,000 Tamagocchis have been sold since they were introduced two months ago by Bandai Co., the huge Japanese toymaker famous for its Power Rangers. Tamagocchis have become the Tickle Me Elmos of Japan, selling for upward of $500 for those lucky enough to find one. But unlike the giggling Elmo doll, Tamagocchis are not just for the young. Middle-aged "salarymen" play with them on the subway. Some companies are raising Tamagocchi chickens as a group project; meetings stop when the chicken peeps for its lunch. An actress being interviewed recently on a television talk show accidentally dropped a Tamagocchi out of her pocket; she explained with an embarrassed smile that she couldn't part with the chicken because it needed her constant care. It would be easy to dismiss the Tamagocchi as a peculiar Japanese quirk. But American entrepreneurs and toy companies are watching closely. Remember: Other fads that started in Japan include the transistor radio, Power Rangers, Nintendo and the Sony Walkman. A Bandai spokesman today said the company was starting to look at "international markets" -- spell that U-S-A. ... (C) 1996 The Washington Post


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