Japanese piggy bank helps savers enjoy romance

TOKYO Thu Jun 19, 2008 8:54am EDT

Bandai Co's employee Reiko Hirai demonstrates the company's latest electronic piggybank ''ikemenbank'' at the International Tokyo Toy Show in Tokyo June 19, 2008. ''Ikemenbank'', or ''handsome men bank'', is a heart-shaped electronic piggy bank with an LCD screen that allows its owner to conduct a virtual affair with a cartoon character while watching the coins pile up. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Bandai Co's employee Reiko Hirai demonstrates the company's latest electronic piggybank ''ikemenbank'' at the International Tokyo Toy Show in Tokyo June 19, 2008. ''Ikemenbank'', or ''handsome men bank'', is a heart-shaped electronic piggy bank with an LCD screen that allows its owner to conduct a virtual affair with a cartoon character while watching the coins pile up.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

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TOKYO (Reuters) - You can't buy love, but with a Japanese piggy bank that combines thrift with virtual romance, you can at least save up for it.

"Ikemenbank", or "handsome men bank", is a heart-shaped electronic piggy bank with an LCD screen that allows its owner to conduct a virtual affair with a cartoon character while watching the coins pile up.

The love story ends when the bank is filled with 100 pieces of 500 yen coins. Whether it's a happy ending or a heartbreaking one depends on how well users communicate with their virtual lovers, said manufacturer Bandai Corp, a toy-making unit of Namco Bandai Holdings.

"We wanted to provide a 'flavor of life' to women in various generations," said Bandai's spokeswoman Kasumi Nakanishi.

"To help users experience the reality of having butterflies in their stomach, this time we sought advice from a 'love-life psychologist'," Nakanishi added.

Bandai triggered a global craze with its "Tamagotchi" virtual pet game in 1996. "Tamagotchi", an egg-shaped device that beeps when the pet needs feeding, sold 74 million units worldwide.

"Ikemenbank" first asks the user to choose between five different types of men: "cool model", "witty comedian", "gentle, public-school boy", "young athlete" and "older man with patience".

As the user inserts coins, the men talk back, saying "you are the best," and "you are looking prettier these days".

But to achieve a happy ending, the user needs to choose strategic answers when the men ask questions such as: "I see my friend had a crush on you... doesn't he?"

The men also need constant attention. If the handsome model is neglected for 5 days, he disappears, leaving behind a farewell letter.

The piggybank is set to hit Japanese shops on September 6 with a price tag of 4,935 yen ($45.76), said Bandai. The company is already thriving on another new bestseller -- "Mugen Edamame" or "eternal green soy beans" plastic key chains that let people pretend to push boiled soy beans out of shells.

(Reporting by Mariko Katsumura; editing by Sophie Hardach and Miral Fahmy)

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