Japanese mafiosi go crazy for Tamagotchi

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The Independent Online
The Tamagotchi, the Japanese "digital pet" enjoying a worldwide craze, has an appeal so extraordinarily wide that it has attracted Japan's notorious gangsters, the yakuza.

They have mounted a vicious campaign to get supplies. Workers at Bandai, Tamagotchi's Tokyo-based maker, have received death-threats against themselves and their families from underworld figures desperate to cash in on the Tamagotchi's popularity. Despite a drive to increase production, Bandai's stocks of the toy, which normally sells for 1,980 yen (pounds 10.50), are exhausted. At the height of the craze, the toys were changing hands for upwards of 50,000.

"Dealing in Tamagotchi is more valuable than dealing in drugs, with the advantage that possession is perfectly legal," said a Bandai employee.

The trouble began earlier in the year when individuals approached the company, asking for direct supplies of the toy, by-passing the expensive distribution system. "We politely refused," said the employee, "and they started calling up and being less polite and making veiled threats on the phone. Then the management started getting anonymous threats against their lives, saying `We know where you live, we know where your kids go to school'."

In April the company's headquarters was visited by the uyoku - right- wingers who drive round Tokyo blaring martial music and patriotic slogans from megaphones on the roofs of their vans. The rightists, often used by the yakuza, used their sound-vans publicly to accuse the company of corrupting children with the Tamagotchi, and withholding supplies to stimulate demand.

So far the threats have not been acted on and the vans stopped appearing after an injunction was served on them for noise pollution. But Bandai employees have been advised not to use bags bearing the company's logo and to avoid discussing their work in public. If they want a long life, that is.