Thursday, May 26, 2016

Okamoto Taro Memorial Museum

Museum entrance
Okamoto Taro (1911-1996) was one of the most prominent Japanese artists of the 20th century. He led quite a life, fighting in World War II, studying in Paris, and hobnobbing with the likes of Picasso and Breton. Taro's work featured a kind of primitive abstract style that was widespread at the time, and, just like prolific artists such as Picasso, he created paintings, sculptures, and everyday objects including tables, chairs, and dishes.
Taro sculpture in front of United Nations University, Shibuya

To me, one of the most compelling aspects of his work is how accessible and visible it is. I've seen public art by Taro in several spots in Tokyo (including a massive mural inside Shibuya station), and I've had the chance to see his monumental Tower of the Sun, which he created for the 1970 World Expo just outside of Osaka. The grounds make a great day trip if you're in the Kansai area.

Today was my first visit to the Okamoto Taro Memorial Museum, which is located in Aoyama, Tokyo, just down the road from Omotesando station. The building, where he lived and worked, retains many artifacts from his studio in addition to hosting exhibitions. It's small, but like Taro's work, it's personable. You can get close to the art, and in the case of the garden sculptures, you can walk right up to them as they inhabit an overgrown mini jungle - which is probably just the way Taro intended (and in stark contrast to the well laid out, planned, and often surgically precise gardens found throughout Japan). 

First, here are some visiting details:

Address: 6-1-19, Minami-Aoyama, Minato Ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Phone: 03-3406-0801
Map: Click for Google Map
Nearest train stations: Omotesando, Shibuya
Hours: 10:00-18:00 (final admission 17:30) (Closed Thursdays, except on national holidays. Closed Dec 28- Jan 4)

Now let's head inside.

First Floor
Museum lobby
The entrance fee is very reasonable - just 620 yen. The first floor contains a look at Taro's studio and a kind of seating room area containing many objects.
An eerily lifelike sculpture of Taro greets you. After seeing the Murakami sculpture the other week, I'm beginning to sense a pattern!

 More after the jump:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Design Festa 43 - Live Art

One of the most compelling aspects of Design Festa is the exhibition of live art that goes on throughout the show.
This happens in a variety of ways. Participants renting small booths can elect to have blank canvases set up on the walls behind them. (Apparently, these are then peeled off at the end of the show.) Some use their booths just for this purpose, and in lieu of tables or cases, they use the floor space to spread out drawing or painting materials.
Various folks were asked to add to the Hints and Spices wall, By Sunday, it had quite a few drawings on it! My contribution to a small corner of this section reveals my limited skills. But Shane was very polite, and I was given consolation chocolate. It all worked out.
Others, like our indie toy buddy Hints and Spices, integrate the canvas into their booths, where they also sell toys, cards, and other wares.

Here are a few more small canvas spaces:
 More after the jump:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Design Festa 43 - Indie Toys

The latest Design Festa, one of Japan's largest gatherings of craftspeople, musicians. and other creative sorts, took place at the Tokyo Big Sight on a beautiful spring weekend.

Many of the indie sofubi stalwarts were there, and in addition to those I wanted to provide a look at some makers working with other materials, since Design Festa really brings everything together, from sofubi to felt to yarn to wood, and more. So here's our toy report, with makers arranged alphabetically.

Super creative wooden toys. Click here for Atara's website.

 More after the jump:

Monday, May 9, 2016

New online toy shop - Yamakichi

It feels like it's been a long time since a major online outlet has opened in Japan for indie toys. Some years back, there were a slew of shops. Some shipped overseas. Many didn't. Few were easy to navigate in English. seems to have put everything together in an easy-to-use website that not only ships worldwide, but also has English instructions helping you get your order in.

The shop has a very nice range of figures from a variety of toy makers, including Dream Rockets, Five Star Toys, Henry Anderson III (whose toys are made by Shikaruna), Uamou, Rockin' Jelly Bean, and many others.

Besides sofubi, Yamakichi carries keshi gomu figures, T-shirts, and other goods.

Let's hope they're able to help folks around the world get their hands on their favorite toys!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ora Ora - Vintage Toy Shop in Taipei, Taiwan

There was a time when Taipei was chock full of shops selling toys from the USA. In the 2000s, with the release of Star Wars: Episode One, there were dozens of stores carrying everything from Star Wars to Spawn to super hero toys.

The boom gradually fizzled out as interests changed and more activity moved online. By the end of the decade, only a small number of specialty shops remained open. And so it's great to see a fairly new shop like Ora Ora (オラ オラ) plant its flag and spread the vintage love.
Ora Ora gets its name from the Japanese manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. However, the shop specializes in US toys.
You can find all kinds of cool stuff at Ora Ora, including action figures, plush, cars, and a lot more.
Here are the shop details:

Address: 台北市大安區泰順街50巷19號1樓
Map: Click here
Phone number: 02 2367 1213
Facebook page: Click here

Here's a walk-through video I made:

The shop owners are really friendly, and they love toys. Ora Ora is in the Shi Da University area, which is great for browsing through boutiques, not to mention trying Taiwan's amazing street food, tea drinks, and desserts.

Thanks for reading, and if you're in the area, have a great time at Ora Ora!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Super Festival 71 / スーパーフェスティバル 71

At the latest installment of Super Festival, a huge number of toy makers sold figures made from sofubi, resin, and other materials. Many shared booths, maximizing the number of makers who could attend. In addition to new and familiar faces, we saw others who haven't attended the show in a while, as well as some exhibitors from overseas. It was quite a gathering of toy makers!

By and large, most exhibitors had a limited number of things on hand or on display, with exceptions like CCP and Fewture Models. But there was such a variety and so many booths that the total number of releases was substantial.

It was a balmy, drizzly spring morning, and the event's location in central Tokyo was almost pastoral (a word rarely used to describe the city).
To get to the event site, you go up a little hill and through this massive gate, which was once an entrance to an Edo period castle.

Despite the light rain, many of the toy faithful were in line before 7:00 AM.

Here are the toy makers in attendance, arranged in alphabetical order.


 240 photos after the jump:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Vintage Video Game Store in Nagoya, Japan - Super Potato (store visit and video)

Super Potato is one of Japan's leading video games stores, with outlets in several cities across the country. A while ago, I visited one of their stores in Osaka. Recently I went to their Nagoya branch, where I took photos and shot a walk-through video.

The shop carries video games, consoles, and accessories for the leading systems from the last few decades. They have an impressive range to choose from.

First up, here are the store details:

Address: 〒460-0011  愛知県名古屋市中区大須3丁目11−30
Map: Click here
Phone number:052-261-3005
Hours: 10:00-20:00 (open every day)

Here's a video I shot:

Finally, here are some still photos of the store:

 More after the jump:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Star Wars The Force Awakens DVD Release Build-up in Japan

Japan is one of those countries where physical media is still strong. There are lots of DVD rental shops, stores, and even pop-up shops, like the above photo. But it feels like it's been a long time since there has been a film event of note.

Star Wars Episode VII provided lots of buzz last year, with tons of branding tie-ins and a healthy build-up leading to the theatrical release. Now that the DVD release has been nicely timed for Star Wars Day, 5/4 (May the Forth be with you!) we're seeing a lot of posters and displays promoting the day.
This decked out display is in front of a shop that sells DVDs and CDs. They got their craft on with this one..

Past movies on disc.

Finn is bemoaning the fact that The Force Awakens DVD can't be bought anywhere yet.

DVD case mockup

Cool BB-8 promo giveaway.

Here's a poster display at Tsutaya, a very large DVD rental chain.

In front of the shop, Star Wars gets top billing.
One point worth noting is even after 20 years of deflation it is still very expensive (1800 yen) to see a movie at a theater. This could be a key reason why so many rental shops are still in business.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Super rare vintage Bullmark Takkong kaiju spotted!

One of the facts of life in Japan is most homes are small. There aren't cavernous attics or basements where boxes of childhood belongings can be kept after their play value is spent. So by and large, unless you're planning on auditioning for Extreme Hoarders, things like old toys get tossed. In fact, it actually costs money to dispose of large items like furniture and refrigerators. I'll go so far as to say that often before buying something, you think twice about how tough it will be to keep, store, and/or toss it!

Anyway, combine this fact of life with the size of the giant Takkong sofubi figure made by Bullmark in the early 1970s, and you have a recipe for a future rare toy. And rare it is. This Ultraman villain emerges so infrequently that the uber-veteran kaiju aficionado who has it says he has only seen TWO in recent decades.
Takkong appeared in the first two episodes of Return of Ultraman in April, 1971. That was the fourth series in the venerable franchise. Takkong battled another sea monster, Zazahn, who ultimately triumphed. On an interesting side note, a casualty of the Takkong vs. Zazahn battle was Hideki Go. The poor fellow met an untimely end, but he merged with Ultraman Jack (then called New Ultraman) to become the series' hero.

On the far side of side notes, isn't it interesting how macabre these shows were? Consider how many (Ultraman. Kamen Rider, etc.) involved bringing people back from the dead (often in rites laced with deeply religious overtones) to then become the reincarnated hero. I wonder what Joseph Campbell would have to say.

Another note about Takkong - the kaiju (like many others) was designed by Tsubaraya Pro maestro Iketani Senkatsu.

You might be waiting for the punchline - the price. The seller was asking 1,500,000 yen. Quite an ask, but if you just like the look of the figure and don't pine for the original, Bullmark issued a repro (in another color way) in the early 2000s.

And that's a look at Takkong, a rare beast indeed. A big thanks to JP for assisting with the info!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Takashi Murakami Animated Lifesize Sculpture in Nakano, Tokyo

Takashi Murakami, a well known contemporary artist, has a strong presence in Nakano Broadway. Along with a coffee shop, he runs multiple galleries on the 2nd, 3rd, and floors.

One such space, which is used for presentations and other events, was recently transformed. The interior was decked out with Murakami;s signature flower design. And at the entrance was an eerily lifelike statue of the artist with hobbit-like feet and an animated twist. Here are more pics, followed by a video.

 More after the jump:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

1950s-1960s Sci-Fi Tin Toys from Japan

As I've probably written before, I love old Japanese tin toys, especially the sci-fi and space-themed toys from the 50s-60s. You've got cool robots, vehicles, astronauts, and other wild creations dreamed up by some guys who must have had awesome jobs. Anyway, here are some shots of old tin toys I spotted recently.

 More after the jump:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

New Medicom Store Pics

Fresh pics from Medicom's flagship Project 1/6 store in Shibuya.

 More after the jump:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tokyo Views

Koenji crossroads
Sometimes toy and show reporting gets myopic. You're indoors, in front of a booth or shelf, snapping shots of static objects. So I thought I'd pull the lens back and take some shots of the environment in which all this stuff is made. Let's have a look at daily life in Tokyo.
Pachinko parlor. They're everywhere, and people line up before opening hours to get first pick of their favorite machines.

Typical izakaya, which is a type of casual restaurant. They're popular with the after-work crowd, and contrary to common notions of Japan as a quiet and peaceful place, izakayas get loud and raucous.
An outlet of Takkyubin, one of Japan's largest courier companies. Sending things by courier is fast, reliable, and affordable. Though the Japanese postal service is phenomenal - legendary even - couriers are still popular.
Multiple story car rental place. Renting cars is also popular, since owning one is expensive with fees, taxes, and parking, not to mention exorbitant highway tolls. Because space is at such a premium, many structures have to rise up instead of going wide - so bike parking places, car parking lots, as well as tons of restaurants and shops are small, narrow, and multi-story.

An older residence. These are becoming rarer sights in Tokyo. One reason is there is a formula by which the value of the building falls year after year, until it hits zero. (I believe this takes 20-30 years.) So homes tend to be built with inferior materials and then torn down after a few decades.
 More after the jump:
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