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Exploring the Possibilities of Lumber

Wood Education Encompasses Everything
That Brings Wood into Our Lives

April 27, 2015

“We wanted to build a museum filled with the scents of real wood, using domestic lumber, to create a place unlike any other in Tokyo,” says Chihiro Tada, director of the Tokyo Toy Museum in Shinjuku Ward. Today, the museum serves as the starting point for a growing number of activities based on the theme of mokuiku, or “wood education.” We spoke with Mr. Tada about his activities and outlook for the future.

A place in the city center where visitors can get a feel for real wood

The Tokyo Toy Museum opened in 2008 in what was part of the former Yotsuya Elementary School No. 4, which had closed the previous year. A model school designed for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government by a German architect in 1935, this was a valuable and historical building for both Tokyo and Shinjuku Ward. When we decided to build a museum for local residents as a way to fulfill their wish to preserve the school building, I came up with the idea of using real wood. I thought that young mothers and fathers would bring their children to visit a museum if they could get a feel for real wood, right here in central Tokyo.

Perhaps the reason I decided to use wood was rooted in bitter experiences from the past. My father had first opened the Toy Museum in Nakano, about 30 years earlier. After I took over the museum, there was a boom in the popularity of wooden toys. Most of the popular products were imported from Europe. I was irritated that we had to import wooden toys from overseas while Japan was home to some of the world’s largest forests and so many highly skilled craftspeople. Sadly less than 1% of the wooden toys in Japan were sourced domestically.

A forest of toys filled with wooden playground equipment

That’s why I decided to ensure that everything in this museum, from its interior to the wooden toys and playground equipment, was made in Japan, including all materials and production methods. I think some members of our staff and other parties worried whether this could succeed. But in the year the museum first opened, we attracted 80,000 visitors; in its third year, we attracted more than 100,000. Most recently, we welcomed 130,000 visitors in one year. Just as I’d hoped, a look at visitors by age shows that young parents with children make up the majority. Operating this museum gave me a strong sense for wood’s ability to inspire people.

Promoting wood education activities through a traveling caravan and a qualifications system

The traveling caravan

Soon after the museum opened, government representatives who were interested in the museum and the use of domestic lumber asked if we’d be interested in participating in a wood education program spearheaded by the Japan’s government. I believe the purpose of wood education is to teach people to love and admire wood, so the first thing I proposed was a wood-education caravan that could broadly communicate the appeal of wood. We would load a truck with wooden toys and playground equipment and take it to regional events. This idea came to pass. In 2010, the Japan Good Toy Committee, the nonprofit that runs the museum, joined the wood education promotion program. Now, the wood education caravan visits 15 sites a year.

Another important activity is the training of toy experts. We set up two qualifications programs. One is Toy Consultant qualification, which looks at toys from broad-ranging perspectives, including those of infants and senior citizens alike. Currently, around 5,000 people across Japan have earned this qualification. They’re active in fields ranging from community service to childrearing support, early childhood education, play programs for children with serious illnesses, toy store management, and the planning and development of new toys. The second qualification is Toy Instructor. People holding this qualification are certified to teach how to make toys from everyday materials. As of the end of 2012, 15,000 people across Japan held this qualification, which they use in fields including childcare and child development.

Encountering wood and creating business opportunities through Wood Start

Many people think of wood education as an activity that involves planting and growing trees. That’s why we’re promoting the Wood Start program—to explain and promote wood education in easily understood ways. The Wood Start initiative emphasizes contact between people and wood, starting with infants. It’s goal is to incorporate wood into our lives. As a practical method of doing this, we’ve launched activities to promote wood education and requested municipalities and companies to issue Wood Start Declarations.

As one example, a local government might present residents with gifts of locally produced wooden toys for newborn children. Or a company might give wooden toys to employees to commemorate the birth of children. Sometimes local governments and companies collaborate—for example, company A might use wooden materials or products produced in community B as gifts for newborn babies or interior decorating materials. Activities like this create opportunities for parents and young children to enjoy safe, reliable wooden toys and opportunities for local governments and businesses to revitalize their forestry and related industries and develop new markets. The end result would be wider use of domestic lumber and the revitalization of Japanese forestry.

Our goal is to connect with 100 local governments and 100 companies through the Wood Start program. Already, a succession of local governments take part in Wood Start, including Shinjuku Ward and extending from the Hokkaido town of Uryu in the north to the Okinawan village of Kunigami in the south, as do many companies from across Japan. We expect this growth trend to continue.

Holding a summit to let more people know about wood education

A scene from the wood education summit

Wood education isn’t just for infants and children. Our goal is lifelong wood education. In contrast to Wood Start, there’s also the concept of Wood End. For example, some organizations encourage building caskets from domestic lumber. Just like education about nutrition, wood education consists of all the activities that bring wood into our lives. This is why, above all, I want to communicate the appeal of wood to middle-aged and elderly people, who are unlikely to have many chances to experience wood in their everyday lives—whether because they’re so busy with work or for other reasons—even after their children leave the nest.

This idea bore fruit in the first wood education summit, held in March 2014. The second summit was held in January 2015. These summits featured presentations on the promotion of wood education through collaboration between companies and communities and initiatives to maximize the advantages of wood by incorporating wood into tourism, education, childrearing, and everyday life. Through the wood education summit, it’s my hope that people will learn about wood education and about Wood Start and think a little more about how we harvest and process timber, from the perspectives of local production and local consumption, and how we should use Japan’s timber resources. To make this hope real, I plan to continue introducing new ideas to broaden wood education and stay active with related activities, while enjoying my own contact with wood.


A scene from the Baby Wood Education Playground

We toured the Tokyo Toy Museum as part of this interview. The Toy Forest was especially busy. It includes numerous pieces of wooden playground equipment, including a wooden sandbox filled with 20,000 wooden balls, and the Baby Wood Education Playground, which features a spacious floor of domestic cedar along with unusually shaped slides and tunnels. Each space was filled with the scent and warmth of natural wood, inspiring a spirit of play in children and helping adults relax.

Parents and children engage in lively conversation and laugh side by side while playing with toys. Inside the museum, a volunteer Toy Curator (wearing a red apron in the photo) explains how to play with and enjoy the toys. Everywhere one looks, this museum is filled with the appeal of wood, the main sense that Mr. Tada hopes to convey. Though located in the middle of the city, it’s a place where people can deepen their communication with each other through the medium of wood.

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