Wander upstairs at this year's Tokyo Motor Show, and the cars suddenly get a lot smaller. Sure, there are a lot of little kei-car boxes on display all over the show floor, but this is a different type of Japan-only unobtainium. It's even easy to smuggle one home – just slip it into your pocket.
This is Tomica, the Japanese version of Hot Wheels or Matchbox. Founded in 1970, this year they celebrate their 45th anniversary.
The initial run of Tomica 1/64th scale cars was all-Japanese: a Datsun Bluebird SSS, a Datsun Fairlady Z432, two Toyota Crowns, a Toyota Corona, and a Toyota 2000GT. Today, Tomica still offers classic Japanese machinery from the 1970s with their Limited Vintage line.
The name of the toy comes from its parent company, Tomy. Tomica is literally Tomy Mini Car, all run together and pronounced phonetically.
The cars were an instant success. Previously, Japanese kids only had access to imported Matchbox cars, but now they could own miniature versions of the cars their parents drove. Today, the Tomica line has grown to hundreds of models.
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There were also plenty of uniquely Japanese dream cars along the way, like this highly detailed Nissan Skyline hero car from the popular Japanese cop show Seibu Keisatsu. Airing in the early 1980s, the show was half The A-Team and half Hawaii 5-0.
Here's a unique intersection of Japanese-Canadian arcane history. This is a model of a Walter Wolf Countach, one of the few cars built as prototypes for the Austrian-Canadian businessman. Look closely and you'll see little maple-leaf flags covering the pop-up headlights.
From plain rolling cars, Tomica has expanded into all sorts of car-related stuff. Being Japan, you know what that means: dorifto! These little remote-controlled drift machines were very popular with the crowd.
Along with classic and current models, Tomica also makes futuristic and commemorative pieces. This Toyota S-FR sports car concept only just debuted at the show, but you can already get a tiny version of it.
While Tomica's more expensive and realistic models are intended to appeal to the adult collector, they're still very much a kid-oriented brand. At their Toyko Motor Show booth, huge pillars were festooned with drawings of the dream-cars of Japanese youngsters.
“Hey guys – did we leave the minivan parked over there?” One of Tomica's new directions is jumping on the Star Wars bandwagon with realistic figurine and starship models.
But because they're a toy-car company, you can bet we're going to get wacky little models like these too. The R2-D2 three-wheeler is simply genius.
You can find Tomica cars at most toy stores in Japan, but they also have dedicated stores. This one was filled with playsets, including a full range branded with Disney's Cars movie.
More wacky figurine cars. Rilakkuma is an anime character whose name means “Relax Bear.” He's cute, and makes no sense whatsoever. That's Japan for you.
This huge swath of Premium Line cars would have found favour with any VW fans on holiday. You occasionally see classic VWs around Tokyo, and most of them are left-hand-drive.
This is the standard lineup of Tomica cars. Pretty much every one of them has an opening door or hood or other function for a kid to play with. The longer versions feature bullet trains or transporter trucks and buses.