Chit-chat from Imaginatorium Shop

Tokyo Toy Show 2009

Blog entry for July 2009

Thursday was our annual trip to the Toy Show in the flashy exhibition centre in Toyko Bay known as "Big Sight". We have been having the first blazing hot days of summer recently, and the first thing we noticed as we walked through the futuristic landfill streetscape, was that the steamy heat really was rather less oppressive than here in Sano.

Into the exhibition building, with our "RETAILER" doggy tags. I couldn't avoid a feeling that the atmosphere was a bit "down" -- which is hardly surprising given the state of the economy. There just seemed to be larger empty areas around the stands. But down at the nitty-gritty level, there was lots to be positive about.

Of the eight (known!) manufacturers, six are always to be seen at the show. The missing two are Road, very reclusive, no website even, and Appleone, also a very small, but adventurous, company.

The first puzzle company we found, Epoch, is in the second rank of the Japan toy market -- big, but not enormous -- just below the giants Bandai and Takara-Tomy. They are the only one of the six for whom puzzles are a small proportion (perhaps 20-25%?) of their total product range. Given their huge puzzle range, I thought the display a little disappointing, but a couple of years ago Epoch pioneered the "small-piece" revolution, so the product range is very stable at present. The main new product was the new series of frames, with a UV filter layer to preserve the puzzle almost for ever. We had an interesting chat with one of the sales staff, including reminiscences of the puzzle craze of the late 80s and early 90s, and the various brands -- Bon, Sunbird, and Central Hobby -- which found their way into the Epoch stable.

Next came Beverly, one of the most dynamic puzzle companies. They produce conventional jigsaws, but also a range of mechanical puzzles, 3-D jigsaw puzzles and other novelties. Their stand seemed to be packed to bursting with products, and showed off the range of images brilliantly. Their latest puzzles are the tiny piece ones with included magnifying glass, and we'll be getting lots of these in stock soon. One particular puzzle we've already had enquiries for, after its appearance in yesterday's Singapore newspapers, is a mosaic version of the Mona Lisa. New, but also where it all started in 1973, when Yanoman sold the first imported Mona Lisa puzzle to coincide with the painting's visit to Tokyo.

On to Yanoman, where my impression was much zingier than last year. A number of exciting new puzzles: more mandalas, some tattoed ladies by Kaname, and the Kagaya zodiac is back in a new 1000-piece version.

Next the Apollo and Ensky (Artbox) stands: these are both smaller companies. Apollo has a relatively small range, but it includes the immensely successful Peanuts puzzles, and there are a couple more new designs we will have soon. Artbox specialises in anime (which is not my speciality!), with the large Ghibli range and many others. If you are looking for particular characters, just ask...

Tenyo was the only company upstairs this year, so up the long escalators in the spacious atrium we went. Tenyo is an interesting company, because it started entirely as a magic shop. The puzzles, almost all Disney, are perhaps half of their business. Again, their range is stable, but they have been persevering with the "crystal" (our name) translucent plastic puzzles they call "Stained art". The original series was rather uncompetitively priced, with 560 large pieces, at 1000-piece dimensions costing more than standard 2000-piece puzzles. But the newer small-piece ones are at more ordinary price levels... and there will also be some attractive heart-shaped ones later this year.

A quick look around at the other stands (including an amazing pogo-stick demonstrator) left us pretty exhausted, so we made the trek back to Sano, stopping only for some beer and yakitori in my old haunt, the Sho-ya in front of Kuki station. A worthwhile day.

Brian Chandler

"A kind of blog..." My sporadic comments, mostly topical, on shop matters. (Brian Chandler)