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Pop Culture in Japan: Virtual pets and pop stars

The virtual pet game Tamagotchi is one of the most successful gizmos of recent years, selling some twenty million units worldwide. Meaning "loveable egg", the pocket game is an egg-shaped key ring with an LCD screen. The aim is to hatch the chick that appears on the screen, feed and nurture it - just like a real pet - over its life span of thirty days so that it rises to heaven and turns into an angel.

Death or ageing is not something that Japan's first virtual pop star, Date Kyoko, has to worry about. The computer-animated character was created in 1996 to fit a precise marketing profile and had an instant hit with her first CD. Although no more enduring than other bubble-gum pop singers, Date's "talents" are an ironic comment on her flesh and blood counterparts whose voices are as electronically altered and images as carefully packaged as those of the cyber-songstress.

To confirm the craze, Date has been joined by a bevy of other cyber-idols, including Ai, Shizuru and Yuki Terai.

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