Bandai, one of Japan’s biggest toy companies and certainly the most famous Japanese toy company in the world (ever heard of Tamagochi?), has their corporate headquarters and showrooms in Tokyo’s Kuramae district, not far from Asakusa. Well, they were independent until 2006 when they merged with entertainment giant Namco and is now part of the Bandai-Namco group. When I was a kid we didn’t have any Japanese toys but we did have a battered old Bandai toy catalog that was handed around like a treasured tract promising toys that we kid could only dream of.
I passed their HQ a little while ago and took these photos of the spanking new statues showing some of the main characters of their most famous brands and games. How many can you recognize? Even after having been a Bandai fan all of my life i had trouble naming all of these. To find them simply walk along the main street from Asakusa towards Asakusabashi Station or Kuramae station, along the Edo Street or Edo-doori.
Saturday night in Tokyo’s Shimokitazwa district and I take a turn down a street I haven’t been down before and come across this amazingly rag tag deadstock toy store! The cheaper stuff was in boxes and boxes outside but the best toys and collectibles were inside the store, so crowded it was barely possible to move around inside. Shimokitazawa is famous for its many curiosity shops but serious toy collectors should also visit Nakano’s Broadway or Akihabara for vintage goodies or Kuramae for the shops full of vintage stock!
The name of this store, Nichome Sanbanchi (２丁目３番地), is taken from an a classic TV drama that ran in 1971.
If you have been in Japan for more than a few weeks this past decade you are almost bound to have heard of or seen the massively popular adventure TV game, Monster Hunter by the game company Capcom. When I was visiting Tokyo’s seaside Odaiba district the other day I came across a massive pop-up store based on the game, it was almost like a little theme park with a couple of huge and incredibly well done blow up monsters. The monsters were hugely popular with tourists and kids, most of whom I doubt have ever played the game itself! There was even corner inside the store where you can practice roasting the meat of your hunted monsters, every time you roasted it well the little meat roasting tune would sound and you’d get bonus points – a hilarious little detail that you can only understand if you have played the game. I have, for about 3 hours, many years ago. There’s even a video on Youtube with 173,822 hits of some guy playing the meat roasting tune on a recorder!
Even if you aren’t much interested in games it is good to remember at least the title of this game, it is easily one of the most popular games in Japan right now, with quite a cosplay following as well! Click the Monster Hunter tag to get all my posts about Monster Hunter!
One of my favorites from this year’s Design Festa was Mr Masato Homma and his very low-key no thrills exhibition of customized tin dolls, known as Buriki-ningyo here in Japan. Even as a kid I remember sometimes seeing photos of old tin toys that would move around if a spring in the back was wound up and came in all sizes and shapes. Cuesukeya, as he calls himself in the world of toy making, takes standard sized tin doll and customize them, for collectors and fans of old-style toys all over the world. Here’s four of his dolls in Japanese style but he’s got many others on his Flickr page, including Hulk Hogan! I love the details and the clean simplicity of these toys, they are almost works of art and would fit in well in any modern art gallery around the world I think. He’s got a Facebook page as well. If you ever visit Kyoto I also recommend the tin doll museum.