When I was young, my best friend’s mother owned an educational toy store. It was the antithesis of Toys ‘R Us, with carefully chosen cerebral games and handcrafted wooden toys. I spent loads of time there, even working stints over the busy holiday periods, wrapping and bagging tons of carved trains and individually painted stacking blocks. I loved the atmosphere, the smell of the wood, the sounds of happy kids playing with the displays.
I am by no means exaggerating when I say that the Tokyo Toy Museum is like my friend’s mother’s toy shop on steroids. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
I was in Tokyo this past weekend with my family for a quick getaway and, with our almost two year old (the perfect critic) in tow, we decided to spend a cold and blustery day in the warm halls of the Tokyo Toy Museum. This is not a museum you’ll find in many guidebooks. Chances are you’ll never accidentally “stumble” upon it either, tucked away as it is in an old elementary school in the humdrum Yotsuya San-Chome neighborhood. But if you are stuck with your kids on a rainy travel day and are looking for entertainment, this is hands-down one of the best places the city has to offer.
The Tokyo Toy Museum is dedicated to old toys, the wooden kind that either your parents played with or the toys you admired in a store for your own kids and then balked at the price tag. Here, however, they come alive – several hundred toys are available to play with at any time and the supremely friendly staff are willing to demonstrate any that have you puzzled (no pun intended … I think).
There are three floors to explore; pick up the English brochure to guide you. When you enter the museum, you’ll have to first walk past the enticing store – you’ll find a good number of the museum’s toys for sale in here so it’s worth a browse when you’re finished. Most of the rooms on this floor are interactive, with different themes. One showcases wooden toys given top marks for child development (rotated from shelves to the circular play area), one is a large scale play area known as the Wood Toy Forest (don’t miss the ball pit!) and the third room is the actual museum – a display (no touching here) of Japanese toys from across the decades.
Upstairs are several themes rooms – a science and music themed room, an old-fashioned toy room (think spinning tops and stacking blocks with a Japanese twist) and a slightly more modern room with board games, card games and table toys (like table soccer with those plastic men on spindles that never seem to kick the ball straight). If you have toddlers or non-mobile wee ones along, head downstairs instead to the “infant room”, a large welcoming play space with both plush and wooden toys and extremely interactive caregivers. Next door, employees often host a storytime.
All in all, my family spent about 2 hours here, which was only shortened by our need for lunch (no food facilities on site). Even with a toddler, we could have spent at least another hour here. If you’re kids are anywhere between the ages of 1 to 12, the Tokyo Toy Museum should be a must visit.
Hours: 10am-4pm (closed on Thursdays)
Fee: Adults – ¥700; Children age 3-12 – ¥500
Directions: To get there, take the Marunouchi line (the red one) to San-Chome Station and take exit 2. When you emerge above ground, look for the Yotsuya Fire Museum. Keeping this on your right, walk straight down the street. Pass the JAL Hotel and turn right on the next street. The Tokyo Toy Museum is about two hundred meters down the street on the right side.
Website: www.goodtoy.org/ttm (Japanese only)