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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Omake, Furoku: Small Gifts That Accompany Products

[From April Issue 2010]

Some goods sold in Japan come with fun, extra items. For example, candy might come with a small toy or an action figure might be attached to the lid of a plastic beverage bottle. Such free gifts are called “omake.” Omake included with magazines is called “furoku.”

Confectionery manufacturer Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd., was the first to pioneer the trend toward “goods with omake.” President EZAKI Riichi, who founded the company in 1922, thought “children need to both eat and play.” This prompted him to create items like beautiful cards and small medals that were included with the company’s candy when sold. These candies, with their free gifts, became extremely popular in helping Ezaki Glico grow into a large company.

Now more than 90 years later, Glico is still manufacturing candy with free toys attached. While some toys need assembling, others can be play with right away, and it’s not only children who buy them. Adults buy Glico candies and collect the toys to fondly remember their childhood, with some eager collectors going so far as trying to collect them all.

“Choco Egg,” a chocolate, egg-shaped candy manufactured by Furuta Confectionery Co, Ltd., became hugely popular in 1999. The surprise inside each hollow, chocolate egg was an animal figurine of such high quality, that many adults became fans. Today’s Choco Eggs contain new toys including vehicles such trains and airplanes.

The chain of Mister Donut stores also offer cute omake, but rather than attaching free items to their doughnuts, they give customers point cards. By buying doughnuts, customers accumulate points they can eventually exchange for omake. The free gifts change periodically and currently include lunch boxes featuring original character illustrations.

Food companies are not the only ones that attach omake to their products. Mobile telecommunications provider Softbank Mobile Corp., offers its clients free gifts, including covers for toilet paper holders and slippers adorned with stuffed replicas of their “White Dog.” NAKAYAMA Naoki of Softbank’s public relations department says: “The white dog that appears in Softbank’s TV commercials is so popular that we created these omake. Some people sign up with us because they want the free items.”

Similarly, furoku (omake for magazines) also became widely popular around the 1920s, just like Glico’s. At first, furoku were mostly packaged with children’s magazines, but now magazines for adults often carry furoku as well. These days many furoku are of such high quality that they are bought and sold on online auctions sites, with some extremely unique furoku even becoming the talk of the town.

Take the business magazine “Dime,” published by Shogakukan Inc., for example. The magazine usually sells for 400 yen, but when furoku is included, it can sell for around 500 yen. Dime’s furoku are practical items such as iPod speakers and ear picks, but recently they have been offering an increasing number of eco-friendly omake such as solar-powered keychain lights and mouse pads with built-in, solar-powered calculators.

Published by Gakken Education Publishing Co., Ltd., each issue of “Otona no Kagaku (Science for Adults) Magazine,” comes with a build-it-yourself gadget as its furoku, such a mini electric guitar, a theremin (an electronic musical instrument), a moving doll or a twin-lens reflex camera. These are not toys but real items that you can actually operate and use.

Those who buy the magazine make the item while reading the instructions. Moreover, you can even improve on the finished product. For example, in the case of camera furoku, you can buy either another lens to replace the original one, or a thin plate to insert for better film stabilization. “Giving adults the pleasure of making things, that’s the concept of this magazine,” says AIHARA Satoru of the company’s public relations department.

“Brand Mook” of Takarajimasha, Inc. is famous for its stylish furoku. Each magazine issue features a famous fashion brand accompanied by a free brand sample. The furoku may include a wide variety of items from bags and pouches to housedresses or umbrellas. Sales of Brand Mook have been increasing on a yearly basis with the August 2009 issue, featuring Cher, selling 700,000 copies. The November 2009 issue featuring Yves Saint Laurent sold one million copies.

“We think of the designer goods (furoku) as one of the contents of the magazine, just like an article,” says YAMAZAKI Ayumi of the company’s public relations department. “We at Takarajimasha consider the combination of the magazine and the brand item to be the “Brand Mook” product. Since the editorial department plans and produces brand items, I think that makes it possible to create a product that meets our readers’ needs and matches the trend.”

NAKAHARA Osamu of Glico’s Public Relations Investor Relations Division says: “In Glico’s offices, we don’t use the word ‘omake.’ For us, the toys are not merely ‘omake that come with confectionery you buy.’ The combination of the confectionery and the toy constitutes a single product. ‘Use confectionery to provide nourishment for children’s bodies, and toys to provide nourishment for their minds,’ that’s our motto. That’s why we call the attached items toys rather than omake.”

Some people criticize omake and furoku as being too extravagant. They say, “The main thing is the product, and yet too much money is spent on omake and furoku.” That said, products with omake and furoku attached are very popular and there are a number of avid collectors of them all. The reason that so many collect is their belief that the manufacturers think “omake and furoku are also the main thing” and make them with all their hearts.

Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd.
Mister Donut Official Website
Furuta Confectionery Co., Ltd.
Softbank Mobile Corp.
Shogakukan Inc.
Gakken Education Publishing Co., Ltd.
Takarajimasha, Inc.

Text: SAZAKI Ryo


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