Here's what we asked Monitor writers around the world to do: Find out what children in other countries collect, what they use in school, and what they eat for snacks. Send the items to us, then tell us about them. What do they reveal about what it's like to be a kid in another country? On this page are some things that Tokyo-based writer Cameron Barr brought back to us from Japan:
Baseball is very popular among Japanese boys, and so are Japanese baseball cards. The cards come wrapped in shiny foil, just like American baseball cards, and some of the players are American, too! (Each team can have two non-Japanese players.) The most popular trading cards this year are the J-League Hero Collection (soccer) and Pokemon cards. Pokemon is short for "pocket monster." It is a new toy and cartoon character in Japan. Other cards include sumo, pachinko, fishing, "Star Wars," Godzilla, karate, even "Speed Racer" and "The Lion King" cartoon cards.
Wooden pencils are rare. Everyone seems to have mechanical ones. (The wooden pencil pictured at left has a strawberry eraser that actually smells like strawberry.) The lobster dinner and sushi erasers are small versions of the life-size, realistic models of food in restaurant windows. The fake food gives diners an idea of what to expect. The miniature plastic clothespins are not very practical, but they are "cute," and "cute" things are highly prized by Japanese girls especially. Penguins ("pingu") and kittens are considered especially cute these days. Just as children in the United States may carry Power Ranger lunch boxes, children in Japan have "hello kitty" nail clippers, fruit drinks, toothpaste, even mobile-phone cases. (Yes, some elementary-school children carry mobile phones in Japan.)
Candy and snacks
Look at all the Western candy! The Snickers bar has a label with Japanese writing. The Bubblicious bubble gum sells for 150 yen (about $1.25). The Charms candy is "made to the specifications" of the Chicago company, according to the label. Milo chocolate bars are made by Nestl. American candy and snacks are very "in." The melon-flavored toothpaste (bottom) is unique to Japan, though. Melons are a treasured fruit here - and no wonder: Some of them sell for $100 or more.