The jury’s still out on whether it’s creepy, cute, or creepy-cute.

A mechanical doll from the Edo period (1603-1867) that anyone can assemble? That concept alone grabbed our attention, so we purchased the August 12th edition of Adult Science Magazine Best Selection 04 model kit for 3,278 yen (US$30) at a local bookshop. This modern take on an actual clockwork tea-carrying doll of the past is a mini version, clocking in at only 13 centimeters (5.1 inches) tall, but we were still eager to try out the kit for ourselves.

Upon opening the box we were greeted by around 30 individual parts. Even so, the manual states that it should only take about 30 minutes to assemble. Thankfully, the most complex parts of the doll are already pieced together.

Our main job was to tighten a bunch of screws, a task which fortunately doesn’t require a degree in mechanical engineering to complete.

Understandably, the base materials themselves are different from what they would have been during the Edo period. Notably, they’d been upgraded to less breakable plastic, rubber, and metal. However, the overall design was still solidly based on the Karakuri/Kikou-zui, Japan’s oldest mechanical design document dating back to 1796. This document was often used as a reference material for making old Japanese clocks with spring action, which at the time were supposedly made using whale whiskers (yes, those exist).

As is the case for anything in the Adult Science Magazine series, the assembly is decently simple. We got all of the smaller parts ready to go so the only thing left to do was put them all together.

However, the final pieces have distinctly technical-sounding names, such as the speed regulator mechanism, the balance wheel, the balance wheel gear, the adjuster, and the driving wheel gear. We didn’t fully understand the significance of each piece, but the guide allowed us to scrape by without needing to know the ins and outs of engineering concepts.

The hardest part came when we had to stick the spring in a gap while making sure that a number of connecting pieces stayed in alignment. It would have been helpful to have a third hand for that particular step, but the final feeling of completion was especially gratifying.

▼ A small source of big frustration

With the hardest part over, the rest was a breeze.

It felt a little bit weird when it was time to attach the tabi socks-wearing feet of the doll. On the other hand, it felt really weird to mount the head. Thankfully, the doll’s facial features are already printed on, so there was no chance that we could mess that up with our lack of drawing skills…

Here’s the doll’s finished base form! It seemed a shame to leave all of the parts exposed, however, so we proceeded to dress our friendly teacup-bearing robot acquisition.

Beautiful sheets of washi, Japanese-style paper, are provided for the clothing. You can choose between a simple Western-style outfit or slightly more complicated Japanese-style garb. The Western clothes, which consist of a shirt and jacket, were designed by instructor Satoshi Morimoto of the prestigious Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. You can also download pattern paper to make your own original clothing.

All things considered, we decided to go with the more traditional option.

You’ll need scissors and glue to make the clothing. There are optional parts that you can omit, but the little touches like the obi (sash) really made the outfit come alive for us. Preparing the clothes unquestionably took the longest amount of time.

At last the doll was complete! The thick, textured paper really lent it an elegant, aristocratic touch.

Closely cropped hair–with a patch of longer hair right above the forehead–was actually a common cut for children in the Edo period to save time. There were many variations on it as well, such as leaving bangs untouched or gathering a lock at the top of the head in a small ponytail. Was this style possibly the precursor to the undercut…?

Now for the moment of truth–time to test it out. We wound up the spring and placed the teacup on the tray, which serves as its trigger to move. Sure enough, the doll started moving forward in a straight line!

Meanwhile, taking the cup from the tray caused it to stop.

It could also change direction quite skillfully.

Sometimes automatons can cross into “uncanny valley” territory, but this one progressively grew on us as we watched it pivot around.

By the way, the guide noted that this release is actually a revised version of another mini model released in 2007. It was popular enough then to warrant a reissue now.

After watching it run around for a while, we’re starting to think our clockwork doll is more cute than creepy…probably…and should we get the urge to have even more hospitality provided to us by mechanical beings, we might just head over to this Tokyo hotel staffed by robots.

Reference: Gakken
All images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]