Tin Toys

Tin toy motorbikes and a truck

Yes, that is a sword on his back – he’s a ninja.

Japan is famous as an industrial powerhouse, for everything from microelectronics to cars, but there’s an earlier episode from economic history that has almost been forgotten. Starting in the late nineteenth century, and continuing right up to the present day, Japan has been manufacturing tin toys. The peak of production was from 1945 until the early 1960s, when plastic toys began to take over. Tin toys representing insects, baseball players, space rockets, motorbikes and just about anything else that might capture children’s imagination were produced en masse, and exported all over the world. Brightly painted designs were enhanced with clockwork and electric mechanisms, and enthralled a generation of children.

A Cragstan clockwork Mr Atomic robot

This robot was made in Japan for the American company Cragstan, whose name it bears.

A few companies still produce tin toys, but only as highly-priced collectors’ pieces. While the days of tin toys for children are long gone, there are museums where you can view the extensive collections that passionate enthusiasts have amassed over many years. Firstly, there are two museums displaying an eclectic array of toys that Teruhisa Kitahara’s has amassed over a period of 40 years. The first is the Museum of Tin Toys in Yokohama. It’s open from 9:30am to 6 or 7pm, every day of the year, entry is ¥200, it’s seven minute’s walk from Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minatomirai Line and you can see it here on Google Street View. Kitahara’s other museum is Happy Days in Kawaguchiko, on the shores of the lake of the same name, near the foot of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture. It’s open from 9 or 10am to 5pm every day of the year, and charges ¥800 admission. It’s a twenty minute walk from Kawaguchiko Station on the Fuji Kyuko Line, and can be found here on Google Maps.

A tin plate roller-skating clown

A roller-skating clown made by the Japanese company Tokyo Playthings in 1955.

Another collector, Toyoji Takayama, has put 10,000 toys from his collection on display at the Kyoto Tin Toy and Doll Museum. Takayama himself works in the museum, so you can meet this passionate enthusiast first hand. Best of all, most of the items are for sale, so if you really fall in love with something you can take it home with you. You can’t say that about many museums! The museum is located on the third floor of an office building, right at the heart of Kyoto’s business district. It’s 5 minutes walk from Karasuma Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line, is open 10am to 4pm, charges ¥300 admission, and can be found here on Google Street View. You’re bound to have great fun at any of these museums, either through reliving your childhood, or marvelling at robots and other fantastic views of the future from a time before you were born.

A Japanese tin toy policeman riding a motorbike

This policeman was made in Japan in 1960, but was sold under the American brand name Linemar.

A Japanese robot tank tin toy

This ‘Robot tank’ was made by TN Nomura in the 1960s. It was battery operated, and no doubt very futuristic at the time.

A Japanese tin toy showing a farmer in a truck

Pinkee was manufactured by TN Nomura in 1960.

A racing car tin toy

A racing car from the 1960s

A delivery tricycle tin toy

This delivery bike was made by Kanto Toys in the 1960s.

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