By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- Since landing a full-time job in 2012, Kwon Seok-hoon has developed a somewhat bizarre penchant for figurines and robot character models that now fill part of his bookshelf as feel-good fixtures.
Some may write his pastime off as childish, but it gives him much-needed respite from his competitive work life and a rare sense of self-satisfaction and achievement, particularly when he assembles and paints his favorite animation character, Gundam.
"I enjoy thinking of purchasing the Gundam series and watching them on display at stores, as well as bringing them home, assembling them and paying attention to every detail during the painting process," the 33-year-old office worker in Seoul told Yonhap News Agency.
"When they are completed, I feel happy as if I had climbed up to a mountain peak, and often end up developing some sort of emotional attachment to them," he added.
Kwon is among grown-ups called "kidults," a compound word of kid and adult. The word usually refers to those with a keen interest in cute characters, colorful plastic bricks, stuffed animals and other toys, which many regard as exclusive items for children.
Many kidults use their financial capacity to purchase the items that used to be out of reach when they relied wholly on their parents. So does Colin Kang who has collected Star Wars-related toys from here and abroad for over a decade.
"If you grow up, get a gainful job and secure the financial wherewithal, you can more boldly move to buy toys that were hard to come by when you were little... That is a good part of being an adult," the 28-year-old office worker in Seoul said.
"I buy Star Wars toys both offline and online, often visit toy exhibitions with my friends and go shopping when I travel to foreign countries where I can find rare items hardly seen in Korea," he added.
Toys that go way back often remind Kang of his joyful, stress-free childhood period.
"Each toy has its own story to tell and they seem to serve as a link, so to speak, between the past and present, which is quite meaningful for me," he said.
Suh Jie-eun, a 26-year-old publishing industry worker, is a big fan of Rilakkuma, a popular bear character by Japan's San-X. Her room is full of Rilakkuma-themed products such as stickers, life-size stuffed animals, mouse pads, cups and even pajamas.
"This cute character adds much pleasure to my life, a reason why collecting it is one of my best hobbies," Suh said. "I don't squander a whole lot of money on it, but I purchase them when I get 'the urge' and my acquaintances who know that I like it give it to me as gifts."
Experts say the kidult culture appears to be growing as many find a sense of comfort and happiness in items that hark back to their childhood when they had little or no stress about heavy workloads, competition and family responsibilities.
"Except for extreme cases such as physical abuse during those periods, a vast majority of adults may have positive memories about their childhood, when mistakes were tolerated with your parents' warm care," Kwak Geum-joo, a psychology professor at Seoul National University, told Yonhap.
"Your childhood is in stark contrast to the present time when you are saddled with heavy responsibilities both at home and work. Kidults appear to seek some sort of relief from the onerous present-day challenges," she added.
Choi Ji-ae, a psychiatrist, underscored tendencies among some kidults to "escape from reality" and relish the fantasies that surreal characters conjure up.
"Characters with supernatural power such as Iron Man and Spider-man, and those in Star Wars are things that can only exist in our imagination, but enable us to have some pleasant fantasies (about what is impossible)," she said.
"However, when those fantasies evaporate, they only face the stark reality... But kidults seek to escape into the fantasies through the characters, seek some vicarious satisfaction and further develop emotional attachment to them," she added.
Tapping into the kidult sentiment are a growing number of businesses designing their products to attract the financially capable potential clients.
Dongbu Daewoo Electronics has recently rolled out a set of colorful refrigerators featuring superhero characters such as Iron Man and Spider-man.
"Such products featuring popular characters not only meet the kidults' demand, but also allow us to introduce fresh designs, which helped us enhance our brand image," Gwon Dae-hoon, the company's spokesman, said.
According to the state-run Korea Creative Content Agency, the local market for kidults is worth more than 1 trillion won (US$880 million) as of 2016.
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