Tokyo Toy Museum, an indoor play space filled with wooden toys

By on November 24, 2017

Japan is in the middle of a serious demographic crisis. Nobody seems to make babies anymore, and one of the consequences is that many of the redundant kindergartens and elementary schools are being torn down.

Luckily, once in a while, someone comes up with a brilliant idea to save these buildings and turn them into community-friendly projects. One such enlightened family are the Tadas. Father Shinsaku, an avid toy collector, established a toy museum in Nakano Ward in 1984. Now, more than 30 years later, his son Chihiro has further developed his father’s vision by rescuing a beautiful elementary school in Yotsuya and opening a  Tokyo toy museum with ten times the floor space of the original place.

From the outside, the museum looks like any other school, but once inside, one starts to notice the differences. Designed in the ‘30s by a German architect, the building has unusually high ceilings for Japan, and the prevalence of wood and other organic materials gives the playing environment a particular freshness. The museum itself starts from the second floor.

Actually, the name “museum” is a little misleading, because the museum properly fits into one and a half rooms. This is the only area where you can look but not touch. The rest of the place is a huge hands-on playing field.

After buying the tickets, one first finds the museum shop – that you’d better leave for last – and a room chockfull of simple wooden toys that everybody is free to play with. “Wood” and “low-tech” are the keywords here. For once in a while, our kids are asked to forget all their electronic gadgets and rediscover the pleasure of playing with their hands. This is just the appetizer, though, because there are two more floors to explore.

The Toy Forest seems to be one of the more popular rooms. Everybody is frantically rushing from place to place, seemingly trying to use the toys all at once.

Among other things, we find a big dollhouse, a corner devoted to the abacus (featuring the biggest example I’ve ever seen), and a sandbox-like area filled with over 20,000 wooden beads which the kids can dive into and roll around.

The Game Room is suited for older children (and young-at-heart parents), as the games here require some thinking and more skilled coordination. The well-lit top floor is occupied by a sort of workshop room filled by big tables and tons of materials for fun toy-making projects.

There are many more rooms to explore and toys to play with – both traditional Japanese (e.g. fan throwing, kendama cup, and ball games, etc.) and imported from Asia and the West. Even the corridors are lined up with all sorts of knick knacks.

A dedicated staff is always on hand to help and explain how to play the trickier games. In the same room that houses the musical instruments, for example, there is a raised tatami area where one is encouraged to play tosenkyo, or “fan throwing,” a deceivingly difficult game from the 18th century whose goal is to knock down a target perched on a box, by throwing an open fan. The Toy Museum can be enjoyed by everybody, and few parents will be able to resist the urge to join their children and run amok.



4-20 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Phone: (03) 5367-9601

Closest station: Yotsuya 3-Chome (Tokyo Metro, Marunouchi Line). Exit #2. When you reach the street, turn right and walk straight. Take the third street on the right. The museum is on the right side. Walking time: 5-7 minutes.

Adult: ¥800

(junior high school and above)

Child: ¥500 (6 months until grade school age)

Adult + Child pair ticket: ¥1,200

Open from 10am~6pm

(last admission 3:30pm)

Closed on Thursdays, 2 days in Feb and Sept,  year-end and New Year’s day.


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