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March 1999

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Dumpling song unlikely hit in success-hungry Japan

By Elaine Lies and Tatsuo Ito

TOKYO, March 8 (Reuters) - Three small round rice
dumplings on a wooden stick don't sound like the heroes
of a hit song.

But a Japanese children's tune about the traditional
snacks, called ``dango,'' set to a simple tango beat, is
in the middle of dancing its way across Japan, becoming
the latest craze among children and adults alike.

Some 2.5 million CDs of the song, which first appeared
on a television programme in January, sold out within
days of going on sale last week. It is expected to top
the hit charts when the newest rankings are published on
Tuesday.

Sales of dango -- rice flour formed into balls, steamed
and then toasted before being served with sweet
beanpaste, sesame or soy-based sauces -- are booming,
with customers tapping their feet to the tune as they
wait to be served at shops.

Even stocks have benefited. Shares of Nippon Hoso,
majority owner of the music company that produced the
CD, and Fuji Television, a Nippon Hoso affiliate, soared
by their daily limit of 500 yen ($4) for several days in
a row last week.

``We started hearing in February that the song was
getting good reviews,'' said Ryoichi Takayanagi, a
spokesman for Nippon Hoso Radio. ``But we really didn't
expect things to go this far.

The song, ``Three Dango Brothers,'' is about three
dumplings on the same skewer that are, well, brothers.

The responsible eldest is ``always thinking of his
younger brothers,'' the spoiled youngest is ``always
worrying about his older brothers,'' while the
independent middle one ``thinks he's the best.''

They happily take part together in traditional seasonal
events such as cherry- blossom parties and evenings of
moon-viewing, but suddenly quarrel over who looks best.

Almost immediately they make up, though, and beg to be
reborn in their next life ``together on the same stick
again.''

In the end, instead of being eaten, they grow hard
together on a plate after being left overnight in a
cupboard.

The tune's popularity can be laid to the catchy tango
beat, which sticks in one's mind much as the sweets
stick to one's teeth, and the lyrics, easy for even
small children to sing.

Observers also point to social changes.

``Japanese women now, on average, have 1.4 children
each, and there are many only children,'' said Norio
Kamijo, a director at Dentsu Institute for Human
Studies.

``This song, with its three children, makes parents
nostalgic for the days of larger families in the past.''

Others say the boom is driven by the longing of children
themselves to have more siblings, a desire strengthened
by the different characters of the three dango and the
love between them that remains unharmed even after they
fight.

For merchandisers battling Japan's worst economic
recession in decades, the song could prove very sweet
music indeed. Spillover effects are predicted for makers
of dango ingredients, while toymakers are hoping for hot
sales of licensed goods.

Economist Akiyoshi Takumori at Sakura Securities said
the song could be a harbinger of brighter days for the
whole economy.

Noting that recent history has shown that children's
songs tend to become huge hits when the economy is about
to emerge from recession, Takumori added: ``If the song
cheers people up and boosts their propensity to consume
by one percent, that would have the same effect as six
trillion yen ($49.5 billion) of income tax cuts.''
 ($1-121 yen)

05:27 03-08-99


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