Revisiting childhood through toys

MIBU, Tochigi - On entering the Omochanomachi Bandai Museum, visitors are quick to spot the 5.6-meter full-scale bust of Gundam towering over the centre of the hall.

With the statue's right palm large enough for an adult to stand on, visitors feel as if they have stepped into a scene of the "Mobile Suit Gundam" anime series.

The museum in Mibu, Tochigi Prefecture, is located in the Omocha Danchi Corporative Association that accommodates many toy manufacturers.

The complex is about a 10-minute walk from Omochanomachi Station on Tobu Railway's Utsunomiya Line. Everything here incorporates the word "omocha," which means "toy."

The museum was opened by Bandai Co. in 2007 after remodeling its factory. The displays include Gundam plastic models manufactured by Bandai (which has its headquarters in Taito Ward, Tokyo) and products from other toy manufacturers such as Tomy Co.

There is also a section where children can play with toys and read manga.

Continuing on from the entrance of the museum, visitors will see glass showcases displaying many toys of old that had been sold in Japan.

There are figures for Kamen Rider and other superheroes, a baseball-themed board game that uses pachinko balls, a cooking toy called Mama Renji that can make real pancakes, and many more.

"I used to have this at home," someone murmured in front of the Mama Renji.

Many of these toys come from the Nihon Gangu Shiryokan (Japanese toy museum) located in Taito Ward, Tokyo, which closed in 2004.

Including toys in storage, the Bandai museum has about 35,000 items. They include antiques like kai-awase, a set of beautifully painted seashells produced during the Edo period (1603-1867).

Also worth seeing is The Gang of Five, a set of five different tinplate robots sold in the 1960s. Of the set, three are on display at the museum. They are extremely valuable - a robot of another Gang of Five set was bought for about ¥8 million at an auction in 1997.

"The driving force to manufacture toys is the enthusiasm and imagination people who make them have to entertain people," said Masao Kanai, 60, the museum's director.

To epitomize such enthusiasm for manufacturing, the museum has a section that displays about 2,900 items invented by Thomas Edison.

They include a replica of a filament light bulb that was put to practical use by using fiber of bamboo growing in Kyoto and a gramophone manufactured more than 100 years ago. The gramophone plays Edison's recorded voice.

"I could see toys from the past and learn a bit about the origin of manufacturing," said Yuichi Izawa, a 37-year-old from Utsunomiya who visited the museum with his family members. "I had a good time."

Old toys make people feel as if they were time-travelers going back to a time when these toys were manufactured or to a time when they played with these toys. This writer fondly remembered the time when playing with super-alloy robots and Ultraman dolls as a child.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Open daily except in special circumstances. Call (0282) 86-2310 for details.