sushi building blocks, wooden timber toys

In an increasingly digital world where toddlers and pets alike develop their hand-eye coordination with Fruit Ninja and Ant Crusher, it’s undeniably important to let kids experience the pleasure of tactile toys and natural materials. I still have the tsumiki (wooden building block) set that my brother and I used to play with; now worn around the edges but with the same nostalgic smell, the pieces still make a delightful and distinct clacking sound when they hit each other.

And so, after coming across a unique build-a-sushi set that has been garnering attention in Japan for its sleek minimalistic design, we rounded up a few timber toys from Asia that not only would spark children’s imagination, but would also look right at home at Anthropologie or the MoMA gift shop. With their chic sensibilities and innate warmth, even adults would love to have these playful objets d’art in their home!

1. tsumiki-sushi by plaplax ltd.

sushi building blocksImage: plaplax ltd.

While the blocks from my childhood were mere cubes, prisms, and cylinders, this sophisticated 50-piece set created by art and design firm plaplax ltd. offers multi-sensory amusement and nurtures future gourmands at the same time. It was originally designed for a sushi-themed exhibit at the Design AH! Exhibition held last year at 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT in ritzy Roppongi, Tokyo. Design-Ah, meanwhile, is a popular children’s show on NHK (like the States’ PBS or UK’s BBC) that teaches them to view the world from a designer’s point of view and seeks to foster such sensitivity from a young age.

plaplax sushi building blocks parts set

Nigiri-zushi can be made with the white blocks (the shari or rice), maki-zushi with the small cylinders, and futomaki with the larger ones. 29 other pieces mimic the various neta/gu (toppings/fillings) such as salmon, cucumber, kampyō, and pickled daikon; black rubber bands even stand in as nori. The pieces are cleverly stored in an oshi-zushi (pressed sushi) mold, and the lid doubles up as the serving tray.

Unlike toys of pre-made sushi, kids can pretend to take orders and then make an entire platter for their “customers.” They could also mix and match the parts in unexpected color combinations to invent an original piece of sushi. If you’re an adult with an obsession for this national food, the set is beautiful enough to be used as room décor. Unfortunately, the tsumiki-sushi was limited to several runs of 20 sets each and plaplax is no longer taking orders. Given the simple design though, handy DIYers out there could easily make a project out of this, and I’ve already asked my brother to hook me up with a few paintable pieces!

2. sushi by gg*

gg* sushi wooden building block setImage: Kukkia 

Similar in design is this set from gg*, a product line produced by female design duo kaz & nov. Both gg* and kiko+, the latter of which previously made waves with their animal footprint sandals, are lines from a company called Kukkia that specializes in wooden toys and is gaining worldwide popularity. Here, toppings like salmon, shrimp, and amberjack are interpreted more literally and the nori is held together by Velcro. It’s currently sold out at Amazon JP, but sets may still be available online at retailers like Amazon or this shop based in Switzerland.

3. gatchagatcha by kiko+

gatchagatcha by kiko+Images: Amazon JPRakuten Ichiba

I’ve always dreamed of having my own gumball or capsule toy machine so if you’re like me, this sculptural toy would be both a charming diversion and decoration. It’s from the aforementioned kiko+ line, which is produced by Kaz Shiomi along with other collaborators and focuses on appealing to an international fanbase; domestically, this particular item ranked #1 in the timber toy section of the internet shopping giant Rakuten Ichiba.

With this whimsical and cheerful interpretation of the gachagacha or gashapon, as the machines are referred to in Japan, you (or your child) could indulge all you want without spending any quarters! The kid-friendly dome is made of plastic instead of glass and among the 45 beads, there are special shapes like a star and moon. It can be purchased at Rakuten Global Market or Amazon for around US$48.

4. Chef Set and Breakfast Set by Soopsori

chef set by SoopsoriImage:  Beyond 123

Soopsori breakfast set, South KoreaImage: 

I love the warmth exuded by wooden objects and their soothing properties, so toys by globally popular Soopsori, a South Korean company, fit the bill perfectly. Eggs, toast, sausage, and a coffee pot are elegantly rendered in different types of wood, resulting in naturally differing colors, so kids can play house or become a chef while cultivating a fondness for such materials. Caretakers can rest easy because all of the brand’s products are non-toxic and rely on linseed oil for their finish rather than chemical paints. Stylish and educational, Soopsori toys can be found on their English website as well as Amazon.

▼ Being a sucker for miniatures, I assumed these were tiny, but photos reveal that they’re actually a nice size!

soopsori breakfast chef setImages: Soopsori

See anything you like here? Longing to put down the iPad and get back to your analogue roots? Leave us a comment below!

Sources: Naver Matome, plaplax ltd.WikipediaKukkia, Rakuten Ichiba, Beyond 123
Featured images: plaplax ltd., Amazon JP, Soopsori