kiddy land present dayIt’s Christmas Eve! If you’re in Tokyo and you still haven’t found time to go Christmas shopping for the kids because you’ve been drinking late into the night at all of the bounenkai parties inside and outside your company, there is a one-stop shop for childrens’ presents – Kiddy Land!

Like FAO Schwartz in New York City, Kiddy Land is a go-to place for tourists visiting Omotesando, the main strip in one of the ritziest parts of Tokyo. Celebrities and tourists of all persuasions have gone up and down its five stories, getting their fix of Japanese cuteness (kawaii) and toy innovation all in one place.

There are whole sections dedicated to Hello Kitty and Snoopy. But more significantly, Kiddy Land claims to have introduced the Valentine’s Day tradition to Japan in 1972 (although that is more likely to have happened in the 1950s), as well as the Halloween parade in 1983.

kiddyland ad in japan times
Kiddy Land ad in the Japan Times_October 19, 1964

In other words, it is a Tokyo cultural icon. I just never knew it had been around so long, as evidenced by the ad seen above in the October 19, 1964 Japan Times. In fact, Kiddy Land started in 1950 as a book store.

Many Olympians probably did visit Kiddy Land as it was only about a few football fields down the road from the Olympic Village. But toys made in Japan at the time did have a poor reputation, at a time when Made in Japan meant, cheap but poor in quality.

Even more interestingly are the other ads that populated that space. I suppose these ads reflected what was popular with visiting foreigners: swords, pearls, tailored clothes, handicrafts and “Beautiful Sweet Girls Beer” (only 280 yen!)

KiddyLand 1950

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Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986
Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986

The Olympic Village in Tokyo in 1964 was very popular. The athletes appreciated the well-manicured greenery, the ample and delicious food, the abundance of bicycles that got them around, and the light-touch security. It felt truly like a village.

Before the Pacific War, the area of the Olympic Village was a Japanese military field, where soldiers would practice and conduct parades. The US military converted the area into housing for American military families during the post-war occupation, and they called the area Washington Heights.

Washington Heights
Washington Heights

The inside of these homes, furnished with American white goods and furniture for the convenience of the American families, were a revelation to the Japanese. Emerging out of a devastated industrial and urban wasteland, the typical Japanese would look at these homes with their huge refrigerators, spacious living rooms, and modern look as a vision of a future Japan.

And what happens when you have a concentration of thousands of Americans in the middle of a highly congested Japanese metropolitan area? You get Americanization. Not far from the Washington Heights area is Omotesando, the road currently famous for being the Champs d’Elysee of Tokyo, and the entry way to Harajuku, a global mecca today for fashion-conscious youth. In its hey day,