Monday, September 14, 2009
Tin Toys Museum, Yokohama
When I was five-years-old, I bought a toy robot with the money my Nan gave me for my birthday: a made-in-Japan, wind-up tin carouser whose major identifying feature was a big ‘W’ emblazoned across his chest.
Just occasionally I still wonder what that ‘W’ really meant. Is it some secret identity or code? ‘W’ for ‘Wind-up’? An honest Jenglish mistake, like Wobot? Nothing earth-shattering at all?
I still have old Dubya. He’s like Old Yeller, but never bites. He’s rusty, missing his arms, and has been deconstructed several times, but he still works when you tweak the metal key that’s stuck above his right foot. He sits proudly atop the mantle next to my desk, having returned to Japan from Australia over eight years ago.
We even found his mint-condition, spitting-image double at the Tin Toys Museum, which was a bit unsettling for us both.
Though not, strictly speaking, located in Tokyo – it’s actually in Yokohama, about 30 minutes by train from Tokyo Station – Teruhisa Kitahara’s museum is an essential (if somewhat hidden) must-see for any visitor to this sprawling metropolis.
The co-author of the esteemed Taschen Books tome “1000 Robots: Spaceships & Other Tin Toys” (which clocks in at a whopping 704 pages!), the prolific Kitahara-san is possibly the world’s best-known collector of tin toys – for quarter of a century now – and recently appeared on the Japanese TV antique program Kaiun!! Nandemokanteidan, as an old-school toy expert.
His excellent museum boasts a collection of some 3000 pre-plastic toys from the 1890s to the 1960s, including a swag of mint-condition ‘50s robots and quite primitive early Astro Boy collectibles.
It’s a throwback to a time (in the early ‘60s) when tin toys constituted about 60% of Japanese toy exports, before plastic gummed up the works and took the anime merchandising boom to crazy new heights!
But wait... there’s more! The museum is built high up on a bluff that commands superlative views over Yokohama Bay, and is right around the corner from the Gaikokujin Bochi, or foreigners' cemetery - the most historic of its kind in Japan, and rated #38 in Tokyo's tourism hot-spots.
Even though it's not in Tokyo.