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Mom and Aunt Sue in Paris back in the day. I’m pretty sure my first tin robot is in one of those bags.

Everyone has an origin story…

A few months before I started kindergarten, my dad was stationed to Germany, and during our time there my aunt traveled from Japan to visit our family for a few weeks. She and my mom took a week-long trip to Paris together to take in the sights, and they returned with assorted souvenirs for the family, including my first ever tin robot as a gift from my aunt – a Horikawa Rotate-o-Matic Super Astronaut from Japan.


Even as a six-year old, the humor of receiving a Japanese robot as a memento of France wasn’t lost on me, but I was thrilled nonetheless. I inserted 2 D-cell batteries and set it loose on the kitchen floor: the noisy motor spun up, and Super Astronaut took its first steps, its arms swinging in sync with the legs. After a few seconds it stopped, and the doors on its chest opened, revealing two lasers that flashed while the torso rotated 360 degrees. After that the doors closed, and Super Astronaut resumed its walk before repeating this cycle again and again. I was mesmerized.


I couldn’t have known at the time that this event would mark the start of my lifelong infatuation with tin robots; I was captivated by their technical sophistication and inspiring design, all for the purpose of entertainment. But perhaps more than anything, to me they represented an idealistic vision of our future beyond anything I had imagined before.



About this site

I grabbed this domain name nearly 20 years ago, and though I wasn’t sure what to do with it then, it was too good to pass up. One of my original ideas was just to share announcements sprinkled with anecdotes and some personal art projects.


In my day job I’m a user experience designer, and on a personal level I’ve always had a passion for retro futurism – ‘what tomorrow looked like yesterday.’ During the early 2000s I fiddled with the idea of evolving the wonderful legacy of Japanese tin robots – I wondered what alternative tin robot designs might look like beyond what was already produced, so I drew up a few.


Fast forward twenty some odd years later, and in the twilight of my professional career, I had some bandwidth during a recent break to revisit this project, so I started researching. This time though, I gained a more profound appreciation of the novelty and beauty of the original designs, as well as the history of the and rise of the tin toy industry in postwar Japan. So I decided for the first part of this project (which is still ongoing btw!), I would dedicate myself to reproducing a selection of the vintage designs in their original glory. I still intend to riff on the originals in subsequent designs, but I’m glad I started with the OG robots.


Researching the topic for my designs helped enlighten me about the community of like-minded tin robot afficionados out there, and I’m eager to learn and share more as I evolve this site. Ultimately I’d like tintoyrobots.com to be a general information site about the art form AND a place to share some of my original work. But that may change as well – to quote Ringo Starr, “tomorrow never knows.”