Toys entertain and educate, inspire and captivate, amaze and amuse – some even help put kids to sleep. Toys are so fundamental to early childhood that trying to choose the “right” kind can be a stressful experience.
Earlier this month, Rakuten Ichiba presented the inaugural Rakuten Toy Awards, honoring the platform’s most celebrated toy-makers at Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo. Supported by Rakuten Mama-Wari, a membership program for parents with young children, the competition kicked off with an initial selection based on product review scores from Rakuten Ichiba. Rakuten Mama-Wari member parents were then invited to vote for their favorites across four categories, before eight champions were selected by toy and education experts Dr. Kazuo Hiraki of Tokyo University and author Toshiyuki Iwaki.
Take a look at the playtime products that most impressed parents around Japan this year:
The “Total Immersion” Category: Toys that kids just can’t put down
- Ages 0-3: The Mario Bulloni Musical Tree
Place a marble at the top, and each leaf of this wooden tree will produce a different tone as it makes its way to the bottom. The Musical Tree not only passes as a stylish interior object, but also manages to capture kids’ full attention. “Parents are often surprised by just how long their kids play with this toy,” comments Iwaki.
- Ages 4-6: Magformers
A collection of different shapes that snap together magnetically, the immensely popular Magformers have earned countless awards around the globe. “Kids can turn 2D pieces into 3D structures, taking inspiration from their accidental creations,” says Iwaki. “Magformers are great for developing kids’ sense of imagination.”
The “Sleep Master” Category: For a peaceful sleep
The calming notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star” made by this adorable plush sheep from French toy-maker Trousselier have made it a hit among sleep-deprived parents. “This toy is meant to be hugged to sleep, so the maker has really focused on how nice it feels to touch,” explains Hiraki.
The “Best Friends” Category: Social toys that encourage collaboration
- Ages 0-3: The Omamagoto Mini-Kitchen
This miniature wooden kitchen is outfitted with realistic moving parts, and encourages learning by doing. “Both boys and girls love to imitate their parents,” says Iwaki. “Playing house is an important way for kids to learn about everyday life.”
- Ages 4-6: Wooden Building Blocks
Sometimes, simple is best. Made from plain German Beech, these building blocks topped the “Best Friends” category by stoking the imaginations of children and parents alike. “It’s actually easier for kids to play with plain bricks, rather than oddly-shaped building blocks,” says Iwaki.
The “Aren’t they adorable!” Category: Toys that tug at parents’ heartstrings
Just 50 cm across when folded, this kid-sized tent transports its occupants to another world from the safety of the living room. “Kids can get tired being watched from 360 degrees – they need their own secret hiding places,” says Iwaki.
Just like mommy and daddy: A baby carrier shrunk down to kids’ size, the Ergobaby Doll Carrier offers children the opportunity to play parent. “It’s very important for children to take an interest in looking after babies,” says Iwaki. “Child-rearing is something you learn by doing.”
Special prize: En vogue – The talk of the town
A set of wooden blocks carved with grooves and tunnels, Cuboro can be used to build complex marble mazes of any shape or form. The Swiss-designed toy has received significant attention in Japan following the revelation that it was a childhood favorite of 14-year-old Shogi genius Sota Fujii.