If you find yourself in the vicinity of Ogikubo Station on the Chuo Line and have a few minutes to spare, you might want to walk up to the Suginami Historical Museum's Amanuma Branch Museum (Suginami kuritsu kyodo hakubutsukan bunkan) for a tiny exhibit of mass-produced toys and toy making in the period prior to, during and immediately after the Occupation.
The impact of the march to war upon the toys children play with is not something that often comes to mind when one considers the social history of the Meiji, Taisho and early Showa periods. Big changes came not just the permissible and suggested themes of play but in the materials as well, with metal disappearing from toy making very early during Japan's adventure on the continent, the tin and iron sucked up into industrial production for the war. By the very end, toy makers were reduced to making toys out of celluloid and thin strips of bamboo.
Particularly fascinating are the pair of Occupation era propaganda films on the postwar birth of a workshop toy making industry. Waste (empty tin cans) from the U.S. military's canteens and clubs became the raw material for an almost entirely hand-powered process producing toy cars for export.
A whole world of asides ("And into tin toys beat our trash/nations shall learn war no more"; "Japanese were exporting cars only a few years after the surrender, only these were made of tin"; "Yeah, and that must have been the last time an American bigshot could be smiling at a display of Japanese cars ready for export"...) come to mind as one watches the films, which are showing in a continuous loop on the video monitor next to the staircase.
Lovers of historical irony will probably like the jellied alcohol-fueled model nuclear power station in the later postwar section of the exhibit, as well as toys of the 1930s proclaiming Japan's military might.
The exhibit runs through December 1. There are special programs on the 20th of this month and on November 3.
Information on the bunkan (Japanese only) can be found here.