Digital Culture

Japanese desk toys

So I spent the last 4 days in Indianapolis, Indiana at GenCon, the largest collection of gamers in the world. As you might imagine, there are a lot of strange things there…and I came home with a few (not the ones in the pictures search, though).

While I’m not the otaku that many, many, many people are in the gaming community, I am fascinated by certain aspects of Japanese culture. I’m hoping maybe someone out there can help me identify the type of toy I’m talking about here, so that I can find more of them. ๐Ÿ™‚

There’s a history in Japan of producing a type of figure/toy/object called karakuri, which means something like “mechanical device to tease, trick, or take a person by surprise”. When you cross that tradition with a culture that’s tied to their desks for insane hours a day, and their nearly inexhaustable ability to produce cute (kawaii)…you get these desk toys I’m just obsessed with. The problem is I don’t know what to call them…if there is even a word for toys of this type. So here’s some examples:


Walkie Bits is the famous toy from Takara — a mini robotic turtle that responds to commands made by tapping its shell! With four different modes, this tiny turtle can walk and run, sing, race, or walk in a rhythm you program by tapping its shell.


Unazukin is the latest interactive toy from Bandai — a small “fairy” that is actually a good listener. The voice activated doll actually reacts to your voice, nodding and shaking her head whenever appropriate. Battery powered (the battery is included — make sure to remove the protective slip first) with an on off switch, the cute two inch high doll has four different movements, shaking head back and forth once or twice; and nodding once or twice, An adorable toy that makes a great gift or a display item.

hidamari no tamihidamari

The Hidamari no Tami (also known as “the Sunshine Buddies” are beloved across Japan for their happy pleasant expression, and their serenely nodding head that seemingly in time with a private tune. Powered entirely by solar power, these display toys are also environmentally friendly and teach the power of sunlight.

So…I bought one of these guys:


…at the con, mainly due to the kawaii. It looks like they are a part of a manga or anime, but I can’t be sure, not being able to read Japanese and such. ๐Ÿ™‚

These toys have some things in common…they are all very kawaii, and all are mechanical in some limited way. My Haro is sitting on my desk now, happily flapping his ears (?) up and down via solar power. I have a small bear made by Tomy that dances in response to sounds. Do these sorts of things have a name? Can anyone in blog-land help? Is anyone else obsessed with these things?

I’ve tried the Google translator for things like this, but it gets me only wonderful advice like:

  • How! Design of fragrance being attached new appearance!
  • Enjoying just your arrangement with the hologram seal which is defeated don’t you think?
  • After opening, there is also the pleasure and a secret.
  • Be able to open and close the ear, it shakes swingingly with the weight which is built in.
  • Putting in place [harokore], the pedestal which it can decorate has been attached.
  • It is the paint end finished product. As for color of the commodity there are times when really it differs somewhat.