Feature: A Museum Unlike Any Other (Part 1: Toys)

Ikaho Toy and Car Museum

The M. Yokota Classic Car Collection is only a small part of the (take a deep breath) ‘Ikaho Toy & Doll Teddybear Confectionery & Chocolate Automobile Museum’, but if you ever venture off the well trodden Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka path, it is definitely worth a visit. If I had the money, this is what my house would look like. Fortunately, Masahiro Yokota is a kindred spirit and after making his money in the building industry (which explains the amazing, yet completely out of place architecture of this museum), Yokota-san decided to leave construction behind in the mid-’90s and build what is essentially a gigantic display cabinet to house his amassed collection of toys and cars from post-war Japan.

 

Non-traditional Japanese architecture
Non-traditional Japanese architecture

Nowhere else in Japan can you experience this kind of ‘Showa’ period nostalgia on such a vast scale (the Showa period of Japanese history ran from 1926-1989). He began hoarding pieces collected from demolitions and building purchases, not wanting to throw away once loved toys and artwork, he accumulated an almost uncountable inventory of iconic and rare items. As Japan experienced a massive economic boom and buildings were quickly torn down and replaced by skyscrapers; Yokota-san had the foresight to preserve these unwanted items – initially for his own pleasure, but now for ours too.

 

Welcome to the bear collection
Welcome to the bear collection

The interior of the Western-style brick building is akin to a theme park. After buying a ticket (which also comes with a little, naked Kewpie-style doll), the first exhibit is the teddy bears. The architecture containing the bears is almost as impressive as the contents of the display. Rather than simply putting bears in a cabinet, the whole area is heavily sculptured and there are quirky details wherever you look. The collection includes rare Steiff and Disney memorabilia that dates to the early part of the last century. If you know bears (I don’t), you’ll be in your element.

 

Post-war Tokyo back streets
Post-war Tokyo back streets

Once through the bears, you enter a replica post-war Tokyo back street. We were fortunate enough to wander this part of the museum with a group of older Japanese gentlemen. I was amazed at the level of detail and presentation of the artwork, the classic food and drink packaging and games; but these guys brought a whole new dimension to the experience. To see six guys in their 60s walking around in childlike wonder and reminiscing over every item and poster was a real bonus. They stopped to play one of the many hosted games dotted around the exhibit and it just reminded me that we may grow old, but we never grow up – and that’s just fine with me.

 

We may grow old, but we never grow up
“We may grow old, but we never grow up”

Every genre of toy, model, figurine and even merchandising/promotional items are on display. Obviously, Ultraman, Astro Boy and Godzilla make up the lion’s share, but there is a fascinating amount of models and toys from the ’50s to the ’90s you never knew existed (even some Japanese versions of Western toys). You could spend a whole day in this part of the museum! Whilst some of the items are in their original packaging, the majority have been used and played with – this somehow adds to the authenticity and nostalgia to the exhibition.

 

Like a kid in a toy shop...
Like a kid in a toy shop…

At this point, you can either enter the gift shop, go on towards the cars or continue with the toys and games. I’ll cover the cars in Part 2, so it’s on with the toys… You enter a small area filled with older, more traditional dolls. These are antique figures and could have been a 100 years old or more. They are beautiful in their own right; and although they are museum worthy pieces of art – they seemed very out of place and understandably had their own dark, quiet little display. Next to the older dolls was what looked like a fire exit; however, the signs appeared to welcome you to visit the courtyard outside – so we did. Outside this building of such colour and craziness is a pristine, tranquil space with a Koi pond and manicured garden.

 

Tranquil Koi pond
Tranquil Koi pond

After spending a while sat pondside feeding the fish, we explored the garden further and located at the bottom was another exhibit. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise – the rest of the building is mental, so why wouldn’t the garden house a movie set?! Yes, the set of the 2005 movie ‘Always – San-chome no Yuhi’ (Always – Sunset on Third Street). The film was a big hit in Japan and as it was set in 1964; upon release it sparked a renewed interest in Showa period nostalgia. Many of the Yokota Collection pieces that were lent to the production of the movie have now been given their own, often overlooked area of the museum at the bottom of the garden.

 

A film set at the bottom of the garden
A film set at the bottom of the garden

Back in the building and it’s confectionery time. Sweets and packaging from the Showa era show just how brilliant the Japanese are at marketing. I didn’t understand much of what was on sale – but I knew I wanted to buy it. From here, you enter a small open area designed to look like a southern European town square. There’s a coffee shop and somewhere to paint your Kewpie doll that you received on entrance (we thought that was a little weird). After a coffee and our painting our dolls inappropriately (too inappropriate to fully share on here), we ventured outside to see the squirrels, yes this place is mental. Around 100 tiny squirrels, chipmunks and bananarisu (?) occupy a large enclosure; where for ¥100 you can get some food to pop through tubes to feed them.

 

Chipmunk feeding time...
Chipmunk feeding time…

It was at this point that things got even weirder… Whilst feeding the squirrels in the backyard, a massive window caught my attention. It was then I discovered that inside the building opposite the furry critters was a $1,000,000 supercar. Yep, where else would you keep an immaculate Ferrari F40? One of the most iconic cars of all time can easily be missed if you decide not to feed the vermin outside.

 

Ferrari F40 - for the Squirrels to stare at all day
Ferrari F40 – for the Squirrels to stare at all day

Overall, if you’re ever in Gunma and specifically the Ikaho/Shibukawa area, this museum is a must see – not only because there’s little else to do in this part of the world. You can access the museum from Tokyo via Shinkansen Bullet Train and then get the bus from Shibukawa – or hire a car and explore the area properly.

Now let’s talk about the Car Collection… (Click Here)

 

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