Chit-chat from Imaginatorium Shop

Blog posts in 2011

January — New year: about 'chit-chat'

January 2011: Using the forum to make regular "blog" posts doesn't seem to have happened, so I'll return the chit-chat here. Last year was another of struggling with the ever-rising yen, and one effect of this was that the supply of new puzzles stagnated. We are now catching up, and when I have added the current pending pile we'll have over 1000 puzzles in stock. So please keep watching!

In addition to new images, old images in new sizes, and some discontinued puzzles returning, there are many new formats: Yanoman 2014 tiny pieces, new Epoch sizes, including 750 pieces, 420 panoramas, (both small pieces), and some challenging variants: double-sided 2016 puzzles, combination 1500+400 puzzles, and so on. I plan to take on some of these in the near future, and I'll post my own photos and comments on them.

February — Reaching 1000 titles!

Puzzle supplies are always a bit unstable over the New Year period, but everything is getting back to normal now. With our last order, many of the out-of-stock puzzles we were waiting for arrived, but quite a number now turn out to have been discontinued. But we are also getting new puzzles up at a rate of knots now, and should reach the magic figure — 1000 in stock — very soon. There are too many to show all of the new puzzles on this page, so please explore the links...

March — Earthquake and tsunami disaster


(12 March) Thanks to everyone for the messages. We are all OK — the really terrible losses are all further north, in Miyagi and Iwate, mostly from tsunami, fire and landslides.

As it happens, I was on my way to Tokyo in a bus with two sopranos and two pianists, for a practice session with a tenor when the earthquakes struck. We barely felt the first big shock (magnitude 8.9), but by the one following (magnitude 7-something) the bus had stopped on a high section of viaduct which was swaying quite alarmingly. From that point on the entire transport system of Tokyo froze: we arrived at the practice studio, eventually the tenor turned up on a bicyle, and we had our session. The streets were full of people waiting and walking, which we did too, spent the night camped in the lobby of an understanding but full hotel, and eventually made it back to Sano by two o'clock in the afternoon of the following day (today).

The effects were worse in Sano than in Tokyo: a 5+ rating on the Japanese shindo scale, which measures the local amount of shaking, rather than the total amount of energy released (the "Richter" magnitude). Keiko and Aki were in the car, but came home to find various objects had jumped across the room but no real breakages. People who were at home say it was the worst quake they remember. And the power went off, until 8:30 this morning. Now we have been without water for several hours, but it is gradually returning.

The delays to trains in Tokyo were certainly worse than anything I remember. And the sight of what may have been a million people in total determinedly walking home was certainly memorable. So we have been affected, though I don't expect any effect on the puzzle shop at all.

Our thoughts go out to those who have family and friends lost or missing.


(17 March) In the aftermath of the earthquake + tsunami + radiation accident there is considerable disruption to all infrastructure. We are suffering power cuts, and delays in getting supplies. Please bear with us for the time being.

April — Fresh start: ninth anniversary

A month has passed since the disastrous earthquake and tsunami to the north, and normality is gradually returning. The 15th of April sees the ninth anniversary of opening Imaginatorium Shop, so it's time for a fresh start. We are operating almost normally, except for slight extra delays in getting stock, and our range in stock should now stay firmly above 1000 titles.

Over the next month or so there will be new catalogs from the manufacturers — although new titles appear throughout the year, this is the time when decisions will be made on deleting older titles. Because of this we currently have quite a number of puzzles (mostly Tenyo Disney ones) which have been marked "Resupply date uncertain" for quite some time. This should resolve itself within the near future.

June — Tokyo Toy Show

June 17: Off to Tokyo again for the annual Toy Show. A surprisingly chilly day given that the summer had already started. We arrived as usual on the futuristic (if not particularly fast) Yuri-kamome overhead railway at the "Big Sight" exhibition centre.

The mood was somewhat subdued, as it has been generally since the earthquake disaster of March. My impression was that the number of exhibitors was slightly down, and the number of attendees down significantly (this was one of the trade days, so no families, and almost entirely business representatives). One of the Epoch people told us that the number of visitors from overseas had fallen dramatically, and indeed there were very few overseas trade organisations exhibiting.

We went to the Epoch exhibit first: dominated by the display of marine fantasy artist Christian Riese Lassen, recently captured from Beverly. Although there were plenty of puzzles on display, I was slightly disappointed that some of the many new puzzles features recently introduced by Epoch were not available for close inspection: I would like to look at samples of the double-sided puzzles, for example. Anyway, the latest Epoch catalog arrived the other day, and it is very impressive: the largest ever, at 190 pages, more than 30% up on last year. And there are still more new features coming soon, including "Find the mistakes", with a certain number of discrepancies with the picture on the box. (Sadly this one won't work for me, because I never look at the picture while doing a puzzle...)

After Epoch, which is a general toy company, we went to see the puzzle specialist Beverly. Despite losing their star artist to Epoch, there was nothing down-hearted about the display. Lots and lots of puzzles: in addition to traditional jigsaw puzzles, mosaic puzzles, micro-pieces, and other variants, they produce a series of "solid puzzles", crystal plastic pieces that build an apple, a horse, a castle, or a replica of Tokyo "Sky Tree", the building that finally dwarfs Tokyo Tower. (Actually there was a lot of "Sky Tree" everywhere else as well...) Overall, Beverly's was the most impressive display.

The other puzzle specialist is Yanoman, whose range has improved after a quiet patch a few years ago. They do have a tendency to produce new ideas which do not persist, and were exhibiting "4-D" map puzzles, of which more details later perhaps. Tenyo is the only company with a puzzle history to match that of Yanoman, and was showing the usual combination of Disney puzzles and magic tricks (the magic dates back even before the puzzles). Look out for the wide range of heart-shaped puzzles which we should have soon.

Not so much was new from Apollo and Ensky (Artbox), but Artbox and Beverly have now joined the postcard-puzzle explosion, so there will be more of these soon.

So a slightly downbeat day, but well worth the trip.

August — Can I come and see the puzzles?

Location map We often get questions like "Do you have a store?" To which the simple answer is "No", since we are an online operation — but anyone intrepid enough to make their way here would be welcome to browse catalogs, and inspect stock. And we'd be delighted to provide a cup of tea. Intrepid? Well, we are in Sano, two or three hours from Tokyo by train.

So where else could I look at puzzles? Are there any specialist puzzle stores in Tokyo? I don't know of a specialist store in Tokyo, but the following two are both interesting, in an old-fashioned way — you can spend an hour there, buy nothing, and feel the time was well-spent.

Hahuhinkan Toy Park: in central Tokyo, near Shinbashi station, this is a wonderland of toys, games, and puzzles. Website Location on Google maps

Tokyu Hands: in Shibuya, with a huge range of craft materials and hobbies. Website Location on Google maps

If you are in Nagoya there is the delightfully named Jiyuukan (時遊館) — to a Japanese speaker this sounds like something to do with "freedom" (jiyuu), but is actually written as "Time-play-hall". Well, "hall" doesn't really have the right ring, but it's the same as the -kan which is the last character in our Japanese name: Souzoukan (想像館) or "Imaginatorium". Anyway, this is a jigsaw specialist shop: their website is Japanese only, and not particularly easy to navigate, but I am sure the store itself would be worth a visit. Here's the location: Google maps

Brian Chandler

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