Coloring not just for kids

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Seeing a smartly dressed, 30-ish lady sitting in a cafe in a trendy suburb busy with a coloring book and pencils could be just the everyday quirkiness of living in Japan. But it's part of a bigger trend in Japanese society.

As the economy gets better, Japan's word of the year is stimulation. One of Japan's most respected newspapers reported that stimulation-related products are the big new hits. The definition is broad: everything from giant flat-screen TVs to "The DaVinci Code." And, of course, Sudoku, but that's big everywhere.

Perhaps no product is more successful than the Nintendo DS skill game "No-tore," or "Brain Age," as it is known in English. "No-tore" literally means "brain training," and is perhaps the most successful in a wave of products that emerged to help improve alertness among Japan's aging population. In a country where more than 70 people a day turn 100 and the single biggest issue is that the population is declining, keeping older citizens on the ball makes a lot of sense.

Once these brain-activation games got started, people of all ages decided to make sure they were maximizing their brainpower. Even coloring is recommended as a therapeutic way to build concentration. (Personally, I still can never stay in the lines.)

Go to any bookshop and you will find a section stocked with nurie, books of black-and-white pictures for coloring in. They come in all types, from the usual copies of famous paintings to characters from Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. But the most interesting are reprints of old girls' coloring books from the 1950s and '60s. And people are taking this seriously. You can take lessons on technique and style. Expensive pencil and crayon sets are being sold to women of all ages.

In the past few years, we have seen attempts by more women than men to try to balance the rush of big-city Japanese life and the problems of the last decade's recession with the growth of the "slow life." Our own research has shown that up to a quarter of women in their 30s and 40s say they are trying to live more natural, calmer lives. So maybe it's not surprising that they are turning to coloring as a way to relax.
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