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Sylvanian Families animal doll series capturing hearts of adults in Japan, abroad

Sylvanian Families series figurines are seen wearing traditional Polish clothes made by Piko in this photo provided by the individual. Piko's Instagram account can be accessed at: ishijun12.

FUKUOKA -- Sylvanian Families, a series of adorable animal figurines that celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2020, has lately been attracting interest from adults as many creative photos using the toys are being posted on Instagram and other social media.

    Tokyo-based Epoch Co. Ltd., which is best known for the Sylvanian Families series, reported that cumulative sales of the anthropomorphic dolls totaled 210 million as of March 2020. The dolls are sold in more than 70 countries and regions, and have also been highly evaluated overseas, mainly in Europe and the U.S.

    Sylvania means "land of the forest" in Latin, and the series features animals such as rabbits and squirrels. From babies on all fours measuring about 4 centimeters high to adult goats wearing glasses, the animals, of which there were only nine at the time of release, have increased to more than 30 to include elephants and otters. The series is popular with a diversity of people and cultures thanks to the animal characters.

    Sylvanian Families series figurines and furniture are seen in this photo taken in the city of Fukuoka on Aug. 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Mari Tago)

    A lot of thought is put into the toys. For example, the clothes worn by the figurines are decorated with buttons and lace, and an S-shaped drain appears when you open the door under the kitchen sink. The house and furniture sold at the time of the first release can still be connected to the latest versions, and the company has received praise including: "I'm happy I can play with my children using Sylvanian Families, which I also used to play with."

    Piko, who lives in Niigata Prefecture and posts images of the figurines wearing handmade clothes on Instagram and Twitter, is one of many who play with the toys with their children. They apparently became obsessed with making the doll's costumes while nostalgically playing with them.

    While creating the clothes in their spare time between work and child care, Piko also produces videos showing how to make the outfits. They apparently receive messages from a wide range of age groups, and even from foreigners at times. Piko explained, "Not only are the dolls cute, but the buildings and accessories are also finely made, exceeding the level of normal toys. It's also nice that you can make clothes with less material since the dolls are small. There are endless ways to play with them."

    While various events have been canceled due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a photo contest Epoch has been holding since 2017 is attracting attention. A variety of images are submitted to each contest, including those with figurines outdoors, or which use multiple dolls to recreate an office scene.

    This image provided by Epoch Co. Ltd. was posted on the Sylvanian Families' official Instagram account with the caption, "Today is a field day at the kindergarten!"

    So why has the series been this long running and so widely supported?

    Arisa Kaihara, curator at the Tokyo Toy Museum in the capital's Shinjuku Ward, explained, "It's uncommon internationally for anthropomorphic animal dolls standing on two legs to be sold as family units." She says it is easy for more people to project onto and empathize with the products. Kaihara offered her analysis, saying: "They're delicately made, but not too cutesy. Perhaps it's because new products in the series are constantly being released while keeping a firm sense of a seemingly attainable 'yearning.'"

    The Sylvanian Families' official YouTube channel features characters such as a baby speaking in honorifics, a laid-back kindergartener and a clumsy father. A spokesperson for Epoch, explained, "We value diversity in the products we make and the messages we spread, and strive to eliminate gender-related prejudice."

    He added, "Precisely because we are in an age of uneasiness due to the coronavirus, we want to provide children with heartwarming opportunities and adult fans with humor and a relaxing time."

    (Japanese original by Mari Tago, Kyushu Bureau Support Group)

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