History in Japan is divided into the eras over which certain emperors reign. For example, now we are in the 27th year of the Heisei Era under Emperor Akihito. Before 1989, Japan was in the Showa Era, which began in late 1926.

Japan went through a series of major social changes during this period, which runs right through World War II and the saw the growth of the bubble economy. Fans of history are probably familiar with the political and business aspects of these changes, but not as much is seen of daily life in Japan during this tumultuous time.

So, here’s a little look at what things were like back then in a list of 15 things that a child could purchase during the Showa Period. Cue the Breaking Bad steel guitar riff.

This ranking was compiled by Japanese web portal Goo as the most surprising things a child could buy during the Showa Era. The ranking is in order of people’s surprise, which doesn’t really matter if you think about it, but we’ll maintain the order for the heck of it.

Image: 20th Century Blog

Dakko-chan was the nickname given to Ki Nobori Uinki (Tree Climbing Winky), an inflatable toy released in 1960 whose arms could wrap around you. Soon after it became a huge fad in Japan on par with a hula-hoop, to the point that you might see a grown woman walking up the street with one of these things clinging to her arm.

Image: Wikipedia

Their cuteness was equaled only by the sheer racism of these toys depicting a black person wearing a grass skirt. It wasn’t until 1988 that anti-discrimination committees took issue with Dakko-chan’s appearance and put pressure on its maker to cease production, which they did – eventually – during the 90s. You can still find similar toys but they have been redesigned to resemble more inhuman-type creatures or other licensed characters like Anpanman or Doraemon.

▼ Nowadays, they are available in a wide range of colors (including black) and have a pair of inhuman angel wings. 

Image: Amazon

Image: RocketNews24

This one is probably not very unique to Japan. Back in the day, food makers would toss in all kinds of chemicals to liven up the colors and flavors of snacks targeted at kids. Although these candies still exist today in Japan, attitudes towards healthy eating have changed significantly.

Image: Wikipedia – Cayce (Colored chicks for sale in Bali)

Snacks weren’t the only things getting artificial colors added. During Showa it also wouldn’t be strange to find a box full of chicks colored blue, pink, or green. These would be sold or given away as prizes at festivals to children.

Given the poor conditions in which they were dyed and kept, you wouldn’t expect them to live long. And if you were lucky enough to have a healthy chick that survived more than a month, the colored plumage would – thankfully, we suppose – all grow out until you were left with a regular-colored chicken.

The practice has since faded away along with people’s tolerance of dead baby chickens and/or live grown chickens in their homes.

Image: Showa Nostalgia

By name, an “insect collecting kit” certainly sounds like a wholesome toy for kids to enjoy. However, pop open any of these kits from the Showa Era and you’d be likely to find an authentic functioning syringe with two vials of insecticide inside. What could possibly go wrong?

Danger aside, I’d feel more than a little unsettled watching my child administer a lethal injection to a butterfly, especially if she were somehow really good at it.

Image: Amazon

Fireworks can still be found readily in most candy and convenience stores in Japan during the summer months, but these are toned down versions of what you used to be able to get from the corner store during the Showa years.

Rather than cute sparklers these stores offered a straight up tube of black powder ready to blow. Because when aren’t explosives fun, right kids?

Image: e-g-non

Sure they were available for kids way back when. But really, what youngster would care about stories of naked people when there’s all this other cool stuff to buy like dynamite and poison? Besides, the best is yet to come…

Image: Amazon

George Bernard Shaw once said that youth is wasted on the young. While that may be true it can also be said that pellet guns are wasted on the old. But it wasn’t always that way in Japan.

Next time you see an old man with an eye-patch, don’t forget to say “thank you” with a really snarky tone.

Image: Xbow1jp

Whoa, no wonder no one cared about air guns back then. We wonder how many times “arrow in the neck” was written on accident reports back then…

Image: Amazon

In a world where kids are carrying around explosives, BB guns, and crossbows, you might want to consider arming your own child. So why not send them to the store to buy themselves a butterfly knife. They’re compact, sturdy, and look cool as all hell when you flick them all over like people do.

Image: Daikatoti

Technically, this isn’t really limited to the Showa Period since kids in Japan today can still easily purchase alcohol if they want to. It’s called a vending machine.

Images: Wikipedia – Lord Mountbatten

While all the spoiled kids could buy themselves pre-made firecrackers at the candy store, those with really strict parents had to roll their own by buying pure gunpowder. It was a great way to teach fine motor skills and chemistry.

Good thing smoking was prohibited for minors so they’d be safely away from open flames while working with this highly explosive substance…

Image: RocketNews24


Image: Pocket Books

While drug use isn’t nearly as prevalent in Japan as other countries these days, it wasn’t always so. Following World War II there were widespread substance-abuse problems which peaked in the 60s. Rather than marijuana or LSD, drug use in Japan largely involved stuff that came from the local drug store.

Sleeping pills were once easily purchased over the counter until suiminyaku asobi (“sleeping pill play”) became a popular pastime for youths. It led to sales of such medicine to minors being banned and ultimately only available by prescription.

Image: Amazon

Around 1965, hardware stores grew suspicious when young people were making painting mistakes in record numbers and shinna asobi (“thinner play”) was uncovered. Highly dangerous substance abuse such as this led to a major crackdown by the government which many felt was highly successful. It also revealed that Japanese people’s taste in drugs was incredibly noxious, which leads us to…

Image: Ekizo Mandarake

Long before Walter White was cooking it up out in the desert, methamphetamines were the main component of Philopon, a product sold widely as an energy supplement in the early 20th century.

As you can imagine it worked a little too well, and shortly after World War II people became concerned about its side-effects which must have included worn-out teeth and really annoying behavior. In 1949 it was declared a harmful substance and outlawed three years later. Sorry, kids!


Similar lists can probably be found in other countries as well, and they stand as a testament to how far societies have come. It also makes you wonder what things that are readily available now will be banned or restricted half a century later.

My money’s on internet rankings.

Source: Goo via Livedoor News, Hachima Kiko (Japanese)
Top Image: Wikipedia