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Trading Houses Move into Japanese Toon Biz

Major Japanese trading houses, which deal in commodities ranging from plants to noodles, are now ramping up their investments in Japanese animation for export, however concerns about lax copyright rules in some Asian markets still persists, reports YAHOO! ASIA. Trading firms see the profitability of cartoon character goods and intend to grow the business by leveraging ties with toymakers.

Mitsubishi Corp.'s wholly owned animation unit d-rights Inc. has produced a childrens TV series called BEYBLADE, a modern version of top-spinning. Toys and stationery featuring the BEYBLADE characters have been selling well, with overseas sales matching domestic sales at around 40-50 billion yen.

d-rights president Toru Itabashi said, "With Japan having less and less children, we need to focus on developing the global market."

Based on its TV series YAKITATE-JAPAN a story about a boy on a quest to bake the perfect Japanese bread and bring the country international acclaim d-rights sells baked goods that appear in the program at convenience stores. The company also plans to introduce the breads in Taiwan and South Korea in the future.

Another major trading house, Itochu Corp., is considering establishing a to invest in Japanese animation by June in cooperation with U.S. media and entertainment giant Time Warner Inc. Under the plan, new animated TV series will be aired around the globe via cable television and satellite broadcasting firms under the Time Warner umbrella.

Additionally, the Japan External Trade Organization supports co-production with other nations. With the aim of encouraging exports of Japanese animation to China, JETRO helps foster ties between Japanese and Chinese animation producers.

"As soon as TV broadcasting starts, cheap pirated copies will flood the market and authentic ones will be pushed aside. There is a limit to what a company can do" to combat piracy, Itabashi said.

Akira Ide, a fellow at the Center for Global Communications at the International University of Japan, said, "Legal frameworks will be developed in line with economic expansion as the need for international cooperation arises."

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