PythagoraSwitch is an educational NHK TV show about science and engineering. It has inspired a generation of youngsters (and dads) to try building and figuring out how things work. It’s unashamedly geeky but also creative, since the contraptions showcased in its most famous segment are essentially “useless” Rube Goldberg machines.
Of course, PythagoraSwitch has spawned a thousand imitators at home: families and kids building intricate routes for balls to travel across.
But now you can add the official NHK touch to your homemade devices with the PythagoraSwitch Goal Machine No.1.
Happinet has teamed up with NHK to make this toy, which replicates the feel of the original show.
When the ball enters the “goal machine” the green PythagoraSwitch flag is raised and the iconic jingle from the TV show is played.
For the engineering buffs, here’s how the inside of the goal machine itself works.
And here it is in action.
The makers prepared more examples of the kind of elaborate contraptions you can create.
Here is one involving laundry pegs and a bridge.
This one has a tunnel, Jenga blocks and more!
This one has a mini whiteboard, chopsticks, and even a toy bus.
Finally, this ingenious design starts with a vibrating cellphone causing the ball to roll… and then keeps on become more and more elaborate.
Get your drawing skills ready, kids. Here is the perfect aquarium that doesn’t require any maintenance — only creativity!
The Picturerium is a digital fish tank. There are no live fish inside the “aquarium”. Instead you create your own fish by drawing them on special cards.
There are then scanned by your iPhone camera so that the fish appear inside the Picturerium. There are “food cards” too, where you can draw a cake and the snack is then “eaten” by the inhabitants of the underwater world. You can even insert your own photos onto the fish and other characters (mermaid, octopus, etc) so you or your friends appear to be swimming inside the tank.
You need to use the dedicated app with your iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 (available in different languages) but most of the hard work involves analog skills with drawing tools and paper!
Kendama have made a big comeback. The traditional cup-and-ball Japanese toy has been gaining in popularity in foreign countries for a little while now and in Japan too, the Japan Kendama Association is determined to milk this new-found following.
And so it is has helped make this Musical Kendama by DJ Koo, which combines the functions of the kendama with a musical beatbox.
DJ Koo might be a little long in the tooth but he’s a bit of a veteran figure in Japan. The Japan Kendama Association’s gamble might seem strange from overseas: if they want to make the kendama look cool, why did they use someone from a previous generation? That’s not ageist — just commonsense.
Well, frankly it doesn’t matter which DJ Koo first started spinning his tunes. The Musical Kendama is awesome.
This kendama lights up when you play it: every time you catch the ball on one of the cups, there is a sound. You can hear DJ Koo counting how many catches you have achieved, or there are record scratching sound effects or remixes of Koo’s famous tracks.
Other modes include dub and techno.
Playing a kendama is so simple anyone can enjoy it, just like the best of toys. However, it also offers a lot for players who want to build up their skills. The Japan Kendama Association administers 10 kyu rankings depending on your ability, and says there are 101 different tricks you can do with the toy.
All this encourages people with nifty hands. See the videos of overseas kendama aces if you really want to be impressed.
And it’s not just Japanophiles or hipsters who are getting their kendama groove on. It’s regular school kids too.
CBS News 8 recently reported that there is a “kendama craze sweeping the country”, while even Singapore is experiencing a mini book. “Kendamas are the latest schoolyard craze,” boldly declared The Sacremento Bee in 2013. It quotes a local store that has seen the demand for kendama swell since the 2012 holiday season. It was selling 200 kendamas a week at the time the article was written.
In 2014 The Japan Times also reported on the new popularity of kendama at home and abroad.
“Definitely, people who had never been associated with kendama, especially young people (in their 20s and 30s), have become hooked for a year or two, with fans forming kendama-playing groups across the nation,” says Tamotsu Kubota, head of the Global Kendamas Network, or Gloken, which promotes the game.
Kubota says kendama used to be enjoyed mainly by Japanese children and grandparents, while people outside of those age groups considered it “old and uncool.”
“Kendama can be enjoyed by anybody, regardless of age, gender and nationality. But preconceived notions discouraged people from enjoying kendama,” he says.
Interestingly, the current boom was spawned by new kendama tricks developed overseas.
“Many people began to rediscover the appeal of kendama after watching videos uploaded online from the United States, which introduced impressive tricks,” notes Kubota, 32, who has been playing the game for about 14 years.
He says Americans who saw kendama toys in Japan took them home, practiced with them and eventually developed original tricks. This trend started around 2007, Kubota estimates.
This is called gyaku-unyuu in Japanese — a “reverse import” — when something “native” gets taken and received overseas, and then makes a comeback at home.
In particular, with kendama is was international players and their freestyle tricks that sparked a Japanese surge. Once the preserve of specialists, kendama is back in parks and streets, and is apparently a frequently sight in Harajuku.
There have since been many new types of kendama released in special designs. The first Kendama World Cup was also held in Japan in 2014.
We were already amused and surprised when Bandai celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Tamashii die-cast metal model series Chogokin (“super alloy”) last year with some spectacular tie-ups like Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun, Hello Kitty, and even Doraemon.
But even those did not prepare us for this: the Chogokin Miracle Henkei Hatsune Miku Rody.
It takes the Vocaloid idol and combines her with the rocking horse toy Rody. Yes, this truly is a “miracle tranformation” (henkei).
Hatsune Miku literally comes out of Rody’s body. This is one toy: Rody becomes Hatsune Miku and vice versa.
The virtual music idol has a keyboard and stand to play, while Rody has been reimagined in Miku-esque colors.
Miku even comes with an extra face so you can change her expression and her trademark Japanese leeks (also called spring onions) that she can hold like wands (these items have been part of a Miku “item war” for a few years).
Witness the transformation here.
As usual with these high-profile “collaboration” Chogokin releases, there’s a long wait between the product announcement and becoming available to buy. It’s currently scheduled to go on sale from November, so be patient.
Japan has a declining birth rate but the toymakers are still trying hard to find new ways to entertain children in the twenty-first century.
Here’s a brilliant example from Takara-Tomy.
Pick up the digital stamp cubes while touching the black panels on the side. Place these onto your iPad screen to interact with the colorful 2D world.
You can move things around and initiate responses from the cute animations, as well as paint and design vehicles and animals, and more. Combining different types of blocks creates all kinds of new scenarios and effects on the screen.
The blocks/cubes don’t require any batteries but the iPad needs to have the dedicated app.
There are two versions: Living Creatures (featuring animals) or Town (featuring buildings, parks and more).
Here are the four games you can play.
Takara-Tomy promises this is just the first in a series of Joujou futuristic interactive toys for all the family.
Our love for all things Maywa Denki is no secret. We recently went wild about Mr Knocky, their unique drum toy, and also think their retro Otona no Kagaku Maywa Denki Automa-te Auto Writer Hand is cool as hell.
If you’re a fan of original gadgets, especially musical ones, then Maywa Denki are the folk for you.
This is a reinterpretation of the theremin (as we know, a popular instrument in Japan) but it reinvents the musical instrument in terms of look, sound and action.
For a start, it looks like a large musical note (or tadpole) with a face. You use the stem to “play” the notes and then control the “mouth” to adjust the sound that is produced.
The Otamatone Digital can play chords and has a back switch to change octaves. As before, you play the notes along the stem (they even provide you with “stickers” so you can see what you are playing) and vary the sound through the mouth, though now there are improved “modes” so you can create great sounds like a kick drum, snare, bell or cymbal.
Here’s Maywa Denki honcho Novumichi Tosa giving a demonstration.
You can play chords (even “power chords”) and “drums” on this tadpole. A mini theremin rock concert? You bet!
Here are several Otamatone Digital instruments playing “The Frog Song”.
The Otamatone Digital is available in black or white versions.
You can get the Otamatone Digital from Japan Trend Shop.
JapanTrendShop is having a sale for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, offering 10% off on all items in its online catalog.
Just use the code blackfriday2014 or cybermonday2014 to claim a discount on your purchases.
So now there is no excuse for not getting yourself that latest gadget from Japan.
How about this one? The King Jim i-glaco Touchscreen Cleaner is a special pen-style cleaning agent that dispenses a protective coating over your phone or tablet to stop dirt accumulating.
Another way to keep your life hygienic is with this Sharp Plasmacluster Ceiling-Mounted Ion Generator unit, which releases ions into the air to kill bacteria lingering in your bathroom.
Our favs are still ultimately the tech stuff, though, such as the Rolto iPhone Screen Printer by King Jim. So useful for recipes and other short lists!
And this is bound to be a hit with the younger members of the family over the holidays. The Omnibot Hello! MiP is a nifty two-wheeled robot from Takara Tomy dances and carries things for you.
Check out more of the latest arrivals at JapanTrendShop.
The tractor sees arguably Japan’s most popular mascot, the bear from Kumamoto Prefecture, driving a tractor while he goes about farming his region’s favorite offerings — water melons and tomatoes.
Stickers of Kumamon’s fruit crops decorate the chassis. The tractor also has two sizes of wheels so with some skill you can make Kumamon do wheelies. That’s something you don’t see every day.
We’ve seen some novel Japanese RC toys over the years, from cockroaches to cleaning mops and more, but Kumamon on a large tractor is certainly a new advance for the medium.
The R/C Tractor Kumamon is available in the full assembled and painted version with the controller on pre-order from JapanTrendShop.
Our previous favorite Kumamon toy had been the Soccer Robot Kumamon.
As the name suggests, it is a mini robot that can play football using an infrared controller. The robot is surprisingly agile and can move in eight different way.
Nanoblock, Japan’s homegrown answer to Lego, never stops evolving.
Just when you thought the micro building blocks had been used to transform every famous monument or building around the world, along comes a completely new direction for the Kawada series to explore.
Nanoblock has now started making railway sets and of course, you can customize the railways and scenery around the tracks with other Nanoblocks.
The Nanoblock nanoGauge Shinkansen Series E5 Hayabusa Electric Train is the first in this new nanoGauge series for Kawada and we shouldn’t be surprised that the makers opted for Japan’s most famous train to start things off.
Now you can build your own bullet train and tracks with the set, and then watch it zip around the loop.
It goes without saying that the best thing here is how you can also build up a Nanoblock city around the tracks. After all, landscaping is so important when it comes to railway modeling cultre. You could add all kinds of incongruous fantasy elements — like Tokyo Tower, Himeji Castle, a WW2 battleship, or something completely original.
Here is a video of someone making the Nanoblock bullet train model set.