Maywa Denki’s Otamatone wiggles off the shelves

November 12th, 2009 by Felicity Hughes

Maywa Denki’s toy musical instrument, the Otamatone, was released for over the counter sale at Tokyu Hands Ginza last Saturday and promptly sold out by Monday. Meiwa Denki’s inventive and off-the-wall toys and art performances have been hugely popular both in Japan and the West for a long time now and new products tend to be pounced on by eager customers.

I was lucky enough on Monday to catch a performance that included rendition of “Greensleeves” on the Otamatone (see video above) at O’Crest in Shibuya as part of Japan Music Week. The Otamatone, whose names plays on the Japanese words for “tadpole” and “sound,” is a kind of electronic recorder that emits a sound when you blow through it and squeeze the cheeks of the cute character at the tube’s base.

Other instruments from the Tsukuba range were on display like these percussive flowers:

and this bizarre horn:

Their Web site likens each performance to a “Formula One Grand Prix race in which accidents and crashes are common.” Repairs are carried out during the performance, hence in the video of the percussive flowers you can see a cymbal being fixed.

The original Meiwa Denki company is far removed from its current far-out incarnation. The business was started up by the current president’s father in the 1970s and produced vacuum tubes for larger electronics firms. The firm was forced to close down in 1979, but after 14 years of bankruptcy was reestablished as an art unit by brothers Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa, sons of founder Sakaichi Tosa. As a nod to the roots of the company all employees wear blue Devo-esque working overalls. The current president of the company is younger brother Nobumichi, who took over after Masamichi retired as president in 2001 at the ridiculously young age of 35.

While not all “products” manufactured by the company are available for sale, the company manages to bridge the gap between art collective and commercial enterprise with ease by both exhibiting, performing, holding workshops and releasing items for sale. Part of their philosophy is to create “nonsense machines,” which have no apparent practical use and, being Japanese, they also fully embrace the cute aesthetic.

On both counts, the Otamatone nails it.

Tags: , ,

One Response

  1. I think the white one is still available…

    Perhaps only the black one sold out? Looks pretty cool, though.


Recent Posts

  • Marketers capitalize on university entrance exam time

    This week there is something weighing heavy on the minds of many students who’d like to advance to college: the National Center Test for University Admissions. It’s being held Jan. 18-19. Those with their heart set on a particular school who don’t get a good enough score may choose to spend a year, or in [...]

  • Pulsations 1.13.14

    The first batch of Pulsations in 2014 features a twist on chopstick design, a spectacular holiday illumination in Osaka and more.

  • Feelin’ lucky? The highs and lows of ‘fukubukuro’

    Whether you count fukubukuro “lucky bags” as a thank-you to shoppers, a scheme to unload less popular merchandise at the end of the year or just a way to kick off the New Year’s sales, buying a mystery pile of stuff worth [hopefully far] more than the price tag is a tempting offer to many. [...]

  • Pulsations (12.6.13)

    This collection of Pulsations brings holiday cheer in bento form, a must-see project for font-lovers, a solo stop-motion animation effort and more!

  • Joysound’s top 10 karaoke songs of 2013

    Joysound karaoke announced their top songs of 2013! However, just because they’re popular does not mean they came out this year . . .

  • Tokyo Eggs Benedict Bingo

    Eggs Benedict with awesome bacon, with a near lack of eggs, with raw tuna! Wait, raw tuna?! We sample a handful of Tokyo’s Hollandaise sauces.

  • Pulsations (11.19.13)

    Fashion, art and snacktime collide in this collection of Pulsations! Plus: Doraemon makes his 3D film debut!

  • J-blip: Tsutaya launches one-stop ‘lifestyle’ bookshop

    Bookseller Tsutaya moves into the lifestyle business and gives consumer more ways to use T-points.

  • Autumn crop of pumpkin, purple potato and pear products

    The change of season prompts a change of snack flavorings – great for those with a pumpkin craving.

  • Tokyo Designers Week 2013

    This year’s Tokyo Designers Week gets its creative juices flowing with more markets, music and a festival vibe.

Read more:
Can anything stop the AKB48 mutations?

The many-limbed J-pop monster they call AKB48 is growing in more ways than one.