I have been to a place I never want to return to. A place that made my head ache. It was bright, shiny and loud. I have woken up thinking about it, and even dreamed about it. I visited a Japanese toy store. The locals call it a toy park, and it did feel more like a zoo. Never again.
The signs were there not to enter: disco dancing poodles, lined up curbside like The Supremes, all pumping away, gyrating to the music. Although, this was no Diana Ross and her girlfriends … this was bizarre. Japanese culture is fascinating and I am always intrigued to see the absolute control and order they apply to everything. But a Japanese toy park is probably best described as … unusual.
In this particular store in Ginza, Tokyo, at the end of one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world, it is floor after floor of every toy imaginable. There was half a floor full of soft toys that looked like real pets – small kittens in baskets, kittens that rolled over. You could even stroke them behind their ears and they purred and meowed (the meowing wouldn’t stop). The puppies barked and walked and jumped, and looked real enough to take home and feed. There was one woman who I thought was talking to a child, showing her the range of pets and their capabilities, but in fact there was no child – she was talking to the wall of soft toys herself. Their realism was extraordinary – groups of women exited the lift on that floor and turned to mush as they looked on with complete love in their eyes for a soft toy with a battery included.
There were toys for boys, girls and babies, remote-control toys, stuffed toys, teddy bears, mechanical stuffed animals, Japanese dolls and music boxes, ‘life amusement goods’ (never did find out what they were), board games, video games, dolls, dolls, dolls and more dolls, jigsaw puzzles, model kits and figurines, stationery, a remote-control race track and lunch boxes in the shape of hamburgers. Downstairs there were plastic tomatoes that turned into bath bombs, a giant peanut that turned into a bath bomb and, just for good measure, a giant plastic chilli that turned into a bath bomb.
Each shelf had a small laptop blaring the latest deal and showing the capability of each toy. This was actually quite mesmerising at first, but after a while, and three floors in, I found myself thinking, and sounding, like Alf from Home and Away: ‘Could you turn that bloody racket off! Stone the flaming crows!’
One of the most disconcerting products (I call it a product as it could hardly be referred to as a toy) was the Nicole Style Mismo Starter Kit. This was a smoking kit that included flavoured cartridges and gave the effect of a real-life cigarette that glowed and smelled like smoke. Not sure what the thinking was behind it, but get them young I guess?
The alpaca terry-towelling pillow was a favourite, but unfortunately with so much to choose from – and my senses overloaded – I ended up buying my kids a pencil each. Generous I know.