Vintage androids
January 14, 2007 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Karakuri automata are representative of the highest technology in the Edo period (1603 to 1867). Automata were also crafted hundreds of years ago in Europe: The Dulcimer Player by Pierre Kintzing , made in 1772; The Singing Lesson, created by Robert-Houdin; three androids by Jaquet-Droz; the Pooping Duck by Vaucanson (the first link at the top). Ancient robots. The first automaton was created by Al-Jazari: video of his clock. The history of automata [pdf]. Contemporary toy automata. [more inside]
posted by nickyskye (18 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The Cabaret Mechanical Theatre offers nicely designed card cutout automata.

On the site there are also amazing Karakuri chests. (The video on that page is worth watching).
posted by nickyskye at 4:52 PM on January 14, 2007

Delightful! Nice post, nickyskye. The little fellow doing backflips down the stairs (at 2:33 on the Karakuri ningyo clip) brought a smile, and reminded me of my old childhood Slinky going down the staircase.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:11 PM on January 14, 2007

This is very cool.
posted by y2karl at 6:10 PM on January 14, 2007

Great post, nickyskye, thanks!
posted by mediareport at 6:35 PM on January 14, 2007

Well, there goes my afternoon.

I thank you, nickyskye, but the students for whom I was supposed to be preparing English lessons are going to have a vastly different topic to discuss this evening!
posted by squasha at 11:04 PM on January 14, 2007

Great post! This is fascinating...
posted by spiderskull at 1:20 AM on January 15, 2007

I had just assumed that the contemporary Japanese fascination with robots was mostly a sign of the times, a quirky side effect of their electronic industry's strength. Not so, it appears.

Also, plus some extra gratitude for this not being an obit.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 2:16 AM on January 15, 2007

During my tenure at Toshiba a few years ago, we were shown an internal promotional/insprirational video with dolls of this type and a master craftsman manipulating them. It was amazing then as now.

The implication was that Toshiba founders were somehow involved in the creation of these dolls before bringing whatever passed as "high technology" to the masses. Does anybody know whether that link is real or concocted for rah-rah effect?
posted by zapatosunidos at 4:16 AM on January 15, 2007

Apparently, it was an external campaign as well. Can't find any links to the video, though.
posted by zapatosunidos at 4:23 AM on January 15, 2007

zapatosunidos, In 1882 Tanaka Engineering Works was founded by Daikichi Tanaka. He was the leading apprentice to Hisashige (1799-1880), who was one of the three great Karakuri automata masters. Tanaka Engineering Works was the forerunner of Toshiba.

In describing the first Karakuri tea carrying automaton I found this fun snippet from TeamDroid:

The driving force of the original tea-carrying doll came from a spring made of whale whiskers (actually whale teeth). All the other components, such as its gears, body and escapement for speed adjustments, were made of wood. How does it work? When a tea cup is placed on the tray, the stopper is released by the whale spring attached to the doll’s arms; the spring forces the stopper to engage again when the cup is lifted from the tray.

(Apparently whale whiskers were used for bowstrings, Samurai sword handles, bunraku puppets, portable pillows, horse whips, furniture and rulers for measuring cloth. I didn't know whales had whiskers.)

Also just found an online store, Karakuri Corner, which sells a variety of Karakuri automata with little videos of them in action and more detailed information about each one.
posted by nickyskye at 8:25 AM on January 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Tanaka Engineering Works was the forerunner of Toshiba.

Ha! That's perfect.
posted by mediareport at 9:19 AM on January 15, 2007

The Kanakuri automata masters were incredible inventors.

The etymology of the name Toshiba is this:

The Kanakuri automata master, Hisashige's successor, "Hisashige Tanaka II, established Tanaka Seisakujo and produced measuring devices, home appliances, machine tools, cables and iron bridges. Tanaka Seisakujo became Shibaura Seisakujo and then Tokyo Shibaura Seisakujo, which led to the current name Toshiba."
posted by nickyskye at 10:01 AM on January 15, 2007

*Karakuri, not Kanakuri.
posted by nickyskye at 10:28 AM on January 15, 2007

I think the "whale whiskers" are actually baleen. Also, a great place to see katakuri in action is Takayama, which has a museum with regular demonstrations and a cool-looking festival.
posted by azuresunday at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2007

Thanks for the great additional link azuresunday. Yes, you're right about the baleen but whale whiskers was a delightful thought for a minute.
posted by nickyskye at 1:23 PM on January 16, 2007

Hey cool, I was wondering what the karakuroids in Shiren were supposed to be.
posted by squidlarkin at 6:09 PM on January 16, 2007

What a fabulous post, nickyskye, thanks! A marvelous collection of fascinating links - this will keep me occupied for hours!
posted by madamjujujive at 10:46 PM on January 17, 2007

A Sisyphusian but pleasantly Sisyphusian task indeed.
posted by y2karl at 10:10 PM on January 19, 2007

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