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[Tokyo] Japanese consumers love to shop, but their desires are often hard for international marketers to interpret. To help them out, Dentsu Inc. has compiled a list of hit products that have set trends and captivated the Japanese over the last year.

The high-tech tools Japanese consumers crave-mobile phones, Internet access, and Personal Digital Assistants like Sharp Corp.'s Zaurus, NEC Corp.'s Mobile Gear and Toshiba Corp.'s Libretto 20-are popular throughout the world.

But what about nose packs and sticker printers? Kao Corp.'s Biore Pore Pack introduced lotion-covered sheets that are pressed on the nose to remove dirt and other deposits from the pores. It was such an instant sellout in 1996 that Kao had to pull TV spots, and Shiseido and other rivals quickly brought out their own nose packs. Meanwhile, the path to popularity for teen-age Japanese girls is to have their pictures taken with friends by a Print Club machine found in video arcades. The sheet of self-portrait stickers is then divided among the girls. SEGA Enterprises and Atlus Co., joint developers of Print Club, expect to sell 10,000 of the machines by early 1997.

Japanese consumers also want hassle-free convenience. Appliance marketers are competing to make the fastest washing machines. A Sharp Corp. high-speed washer can zip through the wash cycle with a 6.6-pound load in just 10 minutes, and Sanyo Electric Co.'s washer can handle 15 pounds of laundry in about 20 minutes. Also delivering convenience are the unmanned personal finance machines, sprouting on Japanese streets, which have great appeal to first-time borrowers in their 20s and 30s who want to save the time and embarrassment of applying for a loan in person. Using catchy names like "Mr. Unmanned," "Yen Matchmaker," and "Mr. Automatic," Japan's five leading personal finance companies are expected to add 2,600 more unmanned loan machines in the 12 months through March 1997, double the number of units installed in the previous year.

In search of greater individuality, young Japanese are dying their hair brown with products like Shiseido's Bleacha, a combined hair colorant and shampoo launched in March 1996 and quickly copied by rivals.

Simple things are also doing well in Japan. For example, a growing concern for nature has inspired more women and couples to take up bass fishing.

Simple and tiny also works. Gametech Co.'s pager-size game toy Mini-Tetolin with a key ring attached took off when Tower Records in Tokyo began selling it last year. Sales of the card-configured toy featuring eight different games, including Tetris, are up to 100,000 a month.

In the food arena, sugarfree snacks and beverages like Korean confectionery marketer Lotte Co. Ltd.'s Zero chocolate and Asahi Soft Drinks Co's Teao, a sugarless tea, were big hits. And Asahi Breweries Ltd. turned around an unpopular product, dark beer, by completely reformulating its strong, bitter flavor into a smoother, more agreeable taste. Asahi's Nama Beer Kuronama, launched in October 1995, sold 4 million cases between January and August 1996-24 times more than Asahi's previous dark beer sold in the same period in 1995-and ignited a boom. In the second half of 1996, Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Suntory Ltd. and Kirin Brewery Co. all launched dark beer brands.

15 Hit Products in Japan

Advanced Photo System cameras

Bass fishing

Dark beer

Hair coloring products

High-speed washing machines

Internet access

Mini-Tetris games on key chains

Mint candy

Mobile communications (phones, pagers)

Nose packs

Personal Digital Assistants

Stain-removing, whitening toothpaste

Sticker printers

Sugarfree foods

Unmanned personal loan machines

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