Sunday, September 21, 2008

Leif - Ultraman & Mechanical Panda - Yomiuriland, Japan - May 1981 - Age 6

These two photos and the one of Leif riding standing on the motorcycle ride pretending to be one of the Kamen Rider Super One characters were taken at an amusement park in Tokyo called Yomiuriland. In these two photos you can see him riding what appears to be Ultraman "flying" like Superman, and on a large mechanical panda. The animal actually walks around. I'd never seen anything like it.

We had some many interesting and unusual experiences in Japan. The three years we spent there were some of the most fascinating of our lives. Even things that would normally be mundane were an adventure there.

We arrived in Japan the summer of 1980, transferring from Germany. What an amazing difference in cultures!

We were fortunate to be there at a time when the dollar was still strong and went far, plus the army at that time had weekend day trips around the area to see the sights for just $2.00 per person. We took advantage of as many of those as we could. If my memory is correct, the trip to Yomiuriland was one of those.

Our sons were adaptable and liked to go places, so we saw a lot, some of it fun stuff for kids like the parks and zoos, and some that were cultural treasures or historical sites.

However, just going to a department store was a family adventure. The Japanese live in small homes or apartments and don't have yards to play in like many Americans do, so they make use of other spaces for fun for kids and outdoor recreation for the family. For instance, we saw tennis courts on the roofs of buildings.

In the area where we lived, the department stores had playgrounds for kids on the roofs. These playgrounds had some equipment for climbing and other traditional stuff, but they all featured these rides, such as the ones I've posted. Japanese families that went shopping could take their kids to the rooftop and let them run around and have fun . . . and of course, drop a few Yen to let them ride the rides. They had rides for even very tiny children.

These playgrounds were only part of the attraction of the Japanese department stores. The main one for our sons was, of course, the toy department. When we lived in Germany (the second time was 1977-1980), children were not common sight in public, and they were watched carefully in department stores, where it was highly frowned upon for them to touch anything even in the toy department.

Imagine the delight of our boys to find that in Japan, children were taken everywhere and in the toy departments they had toys actually out of the boxes on tables where kids could play with them and try them out. What an enlightened attitude! I remember one day remarking to a young man who was either a salesman in a toy department or perhaps the head of it, that we really liked this. He said, as though it were self-evident, "How else are they supposed to know if they like the toys or not?" We brought a lot of Japanese toys back to the USA with us, and we still have them, or, more accurately, Peter Anthony has his Japanese toys and Leif gave his to Marcus. These toys were mostly transforming robots. Their engineering was amazing, and they were very well made.

The third attraction at the department stores was the grocery store in the basement level. Here we could spend an hour just wandering through and looking at all the fascinating kinds of food we hadn't seen before, hear the salespeople yelling "Irrashaimase" and beckoning us to try samples. An adventurous person who was willing to try foods they didn't recognize could probably taste their way to a full lunch. My sons were not that adventurous, but they did enjoy looking at all of it, and there were things they liked us to buy. We liked mochi, for instance.

There were no fancy upscale department stores in the area where we lived, but there were two that were several floors high that were chain stores, rather like a high rise Japanese version of Walmart. These were Chujitsuya (which most Americans called "The Flower Stores" because that was its logo) and Ito-Yokado (which we called the Dove Store, because its logo was a big white dove. We enjoyed frequent trips to both of them, and I still drink coffee nearly every day from a cup I bought at a Dove Store sidewalk sale which says, "If I don't do it, it doesn't get done," a good reminder.

The local Sagamihara Chujitsuya store is apparently no longer there, a pity as we spent a lot of happy hours browsing there and coming home with "treasures."

For upscale, glittering, fancy department stores we had to go to Machida (closest), Tokyo, Shinjuku or Yokohama.

1 comment:

  1. There were golf driving ranges on some of those rooftops, too, but the playgrounds were the best. The Japanese are masters of miniaturization in all things, but their ability to engineer tiny railroad rides and roller coasters for children that would fit onto these rooftops really left an impression. Quite good ice cream was often sold up there, too.

    The toy department was always easy to find. It was typically on the 2nd-from-top floor, but even without that knowledge, you could simply ride the escalators until you heard the cacophony of cymbal banging monkeys and motorized robots and things with ball bearings running around on rails clattering around on that demo table you mentioned.

    Back in the early 80's, the sheer volume and diversity of robot and/or "science fiction" toys available in your typical Japanese toy department was overwhelming. The Japanese (thankfully) had not yet learned to focus and concentrate revenue into one or two highly optimized and marketed product lines. Rather, they took the shotgun approach, trying anything and everything, covering the shelves with an assortment of products that took hours to pick through and comprehend, each one a little island unto itself of creativity, engineering, quality, and in some cases, art.

    Although some of the more successful genres from the 80s live on, the Japanese toy department of today is not nearly as amazing as it was.

    The grocery store in the basement was always insanely happy and vibrant and interesting even if your juvenile taste buds didn't dare sample the goods. Except the chocolate. Nothing beats Morinaga chocolate. Especially when it comes with a toy robot in the box.

    Japan's deep, bold, and unapologetic optimism & creativity made an impression in us all.