Japan is known for its high speed trains called Shinkansen, which recognized for its world-class performance, as well as its railway navigation system that carries passengers right on time. Children in Japan feel a close connection with these excellent trains and, before they know it, their hearts are filled with the wish, "I want to try driving a train!" In Japan, items like toys, games and stationeries that nurture those dreams and longing of children have been manufactured, and they have been continued to be loved for a long time.
Longtime Seller of 54 Years
Children gazing at the display at a Plarail shop
A miniature train with a motor is making its way steadily over blue, plastic rails. This toy, around which little boys are gathering around the display and looking at intently, is the Plarail. The Plarail is an extremely popular toy series that any Japanese boy has played with at least once in their lives, and 54 years have already passed since its first release. If all rails that have been sold up to date are connected, the length will exceed 100,000 kilometers—a distance that could cross the earth two and a half times.
An array of Plarail Shinkansen © TOMY
At first, the Plarail came with a steam locomotive type that was pushed by hand. Later, it was improved by adding a motor mechanism.
In 1964, 5 years after Plarail first went on sale, the first Hikari Shinkansen began operations between Tokyo and Osaka; in the same year Plarail made a model of it and launched its Hikari series. Similarly, for half a century, Plarail has maintained its long-lasting popularity by launching the sale of a new product every time a cool new type of train appears.
Plarail rails that have been assembled to an impressive height of 1.5 meters like a work of art (Tokyo Café "Café Purataku)
For most children, the first Plarail they receive is a train and a rail set that is long enough for the train to make one lap. Looking at the train running over the rails for several dozen laps in a day, the kids enjoy the feeling of as if driving the trains themselves. Since there are add-on parts that can be purchased, the kids create their own unique railway world by increasing more and more parts, such as by linking rails to make the railway longer or adding railroad crossings where roads intersect the rails, as well as parts like points that change the direction of the train into two, tunnels, stations, and iron bridges that cross rivers.
The Plarail rails can be assembled not only over a flat plane but also in a complex manner like in a three-dimensional puzzle. Some people who are skilled at it can connect rails round and round until the height almost passes 1 meter. The sight of the train running up and down, left and right, over intertwining rails as if in a maze is almost like a moving artwork.
"Toy Town" made with Plarail © TOMY