Japanese toy with the perfect city pet

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The Independent Online
LIFE can be hard in Tokyo. As in any big city, loneliness stalks large crowds. Uprooted people living on their own spend long, solitary nights in their small flats.

In other cities, people frequently resort to pets to relieve loneliness. But in crowded and hygiene-conscious Tokyo, few landlords allow animals.

But suddenly, here comes Mew, the high-tech answer to the Tokyo blues. Mew is a stuffed toy cat with an electronic sensor that purrs when stroked. For 12,000 Yen ( pounds 52) you can possess an electronically reactive animal, part of the first generation of 'fake pets' that Japanese toymakers are developing for the lonely hearts cooped up in suburban anonymity.

'Mew won't get sick, you don't have to feed it or take care of it at all, so we believe Mew is the ultimate pet,' said a spokesperson for Takara, the company that manufactures the fake pet. Takara has sold 78,000 Mews in the past three months, mostly to young, single women who apparently crave a little cuddle after the long hours of photocopying and making tea for their bosses in the office.

If cats are too soppy, a rival firm, Nomura Toys, has come out with Super Doggy Guard One, a mechanical canine with an infra-red sensor that barks when something moves. A third company, Bandai, is selling a puppy with a sophisticated voice-recognition mechanism: when you call its name it yelps and wags its tail.

Tokyo is already becoming a happier and more emotionally balanced place.

This year I witnessed an old lady taking her real, live dog for a walk. After the critical moment she moved in with a scoop to clear up the evidence, and even administered toilet paper to the animal's hindquarters.

Today she can save all the trouble and buy herself a fake pet. It is the way of the future.