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What makes Japanese toys and games unique? April 30 2014

A deep-rooted cultural value for the Japanese is the concept of “wa”, which means “group harmony”. The concept of “wa” places the common greater good at higher importance than the needs of an individual. This principle holds true throughout Japanese society, including schools, social groups and, and even the workplace. Many Japanese toys and games, therefore, focus on group play and harmonious play, rather than toys and games that value the individual victory as is common in many Western toys and games (think Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Action Figures, etc.)

(wa, meaning harmony)

Japan’s history and culture spans thousands of years, and throughout this period, much of the country’s events and experiences have been incorporated into its toys and games. Take, for example, Japan’s Edo period (1615 – 1868) before the country opened itself up to the West. During this prosperous period, many new folk toys were created oftentimes by individual artisans or small groups of artists. A popular toy was the cylindrically shaped, wooden kokeshi doll that had a large influence on other toy makers at that time. These “toys” reflected Japanese regional history, customs, stories and legends, and while their creation still continues to the present day, they are more likely to be sold as souvenirs or collector’s items, rather than toys.

(Traditional kokeshi doll)

After opening its doors to the West during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), Japan quickly transformed into an industrialized nation following in the footsteps of the industrial revolution that similarly drove much cultural change in America and Europe. Japan especially flourished during and after the period of the Great War (1914 – 1918), as Western production and exports of goods, including toys, came to a virtual standstill. During this Golden Era, Japanese toy manufacturers focused on creating unique toys for both the domestic and international markets, including the now-classic wind-up and battery-operated toys (then considered a novelty and break-through in toy technology). An example of such a battery-operated toy is the cymbal-clapping monkey, made famous in the animated Pixar movie Toy Story 3 (the all-seeing cymbal-clapping guardian monkey). 

(Cymbal-clapping monkey)

Today, Japanese toys and games are heavily influenced by domestic entertainment content, particularly Japanese movies, television and comics, which gave rise to Godzilla and other colossal monsters (kaijus) and on the other end of the extreme, Hello Kitty, probably the world’s most beloved little kitty. It is safe to say that any Japanese toy available on Arden Anne will make for a unique and high-end gift, whether given to your own children or as a present to someone else. You are unlikely to find such beautifully presented items at your local mega-toy retailer or anywhere else online. Please come back often to view our ever-changing inventory, hosting the latest and greatest toys and games that are currently popular in the Japanese market.