Ancient Japanese Robots from Nagoya

Yes, Japan has a strong association with robots, whether its through Manga and Anime, or in real-life like Toyota’s Asimo.  But did you know that Japan’s fascination with them actually goes back to before modern technology was even invented?

Ok, before you get your tinfoil hats out and think that Toyota’s ASIMO is a time-traveling robot sent from the future to change the primary timeline of historical events, let me explain:
Far from today’s modern marvels of technology, the world’s first wooden robots, mechanical automatons called Karakuri Ningyo (からくり人形) were almost exclusively used for entertainment purposes, and were developed in Nagoya in the early 1600’s.

Some were clockwork robots able to serve tea, others could write simple messages, and others could even fire off arrows. These robots didn’t have Pentium inside, but rather were operated by weights and pulleys, even springs made of baleen, (the filtering filaments of a whale).

Many were for the entertainment of the rich, but other, simpler Karakuri Ningyo graced the tops of the huge traditional festival floats, telling stories and entertaining the townsfolk.

Unfortunately, Nagoya usually gets skipped over by tourists for the bigger Mecca’s of Japanophiles, namely Tokyo and Kyoto, but there’s quite a rich and diverse history of these robots in this region that’s definitely worth a look.

Tamaya Shobei (13th) is one of the last remaining traditional Karakuri craftsmen, and along with the Aichi Tourism Board, hopes to revive interest in the traditional festivals, and in the robotic dolls… have a look at these videos.

-Video Source: Plastic Pals via YouTube

Another, longer video with more historical explanations and examples (in Japanese) can be found here:

-Video Source: Ryo000001 via YouTube.

If you’re interested in checking out these really interesting automatons while you’re in Nagoya, have a look at this website, where you can get a lot of information about them, Tamaya Shobei, where to find his workshop, and where the various Karakuri Ningyo can be found in and around Nagoya.

Edo-Period Robots in Nagoya