In covering DIY technology from Japan, there have been quite a few kits and projects that have come along that would be of interest to makers outside of Japan, but are either not available for overseas ordering, or are available but may be subject to high shipping costs and long waits. Luckily, one very consistent source of excitement in the world of DIY kits and resources in Japan is Gakken, the publishers of magazine Otona no Kagaku (Sophisticated Science for Adults), and in addition to their magazine that includes a new DIY kit with each issue, they also produce a wonderful line of stand-alone kits. Lucky for residents of the US, the Maker Shed is proud to be the exclusive US distributor of Gakken’s line of Sophisticated Science Kits for Adults, as well as their Mechanical Animals Series, thus saving you, the maker, from exorbitant overseas shipping rates and unbearable overseas shipping wait times. Gakken’s kits provide the perfect mix of DIY, science, and history as they entertain as well as educate.
Below is an extended list of the Gakken kits that we have in the Maker Shed with descriptions of each item. You may have seen some of these items such as the hack-loving SX-150 Analog Synthesizer and the Mini-Theremin on the Make Blog before, but this list also includes some of the lesser-known gems like the Gravity Clock, the Stereo Pinhole Camera, and the New Edison-style Phonograph. Check ‘em out: Co-Robot Kit This little robot is tough! Run by a single motor, he walks with a decidedly “angry” pace. If he falls over, he picks himself up again! An awesome design with an amazing gear mechanism, he will not quit! Over 50,000 sold in Japan and a hit at the International Robot Exhibition earlier this year. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build. Made of high impact plastic. Price: $29.95
Watch the little guy in action:
Mechamo Centipede Kit Make yourself a remote controlled “Meka-Centipede” wtih 32 legs that look like waves when they move all together with this awesome, no-soldering-required kit.
- The leg movement is realized by a set of link mechanisms that rotate 32 cranks at once and also keeps their phases different by 45 degrees and thus it’s legs move one after another to form “waves”.
- When assembling, enjoy examining from where to where the kinetic energy is transmitted through the links and where the axis of the crank is located, the machine will be that much more impressive.
- Requires no soldering to build and should take about two hours to complete.
Patti’s video of her Mechamo Centipede build: Read more: Build: Gakken Mechamo Centipede
Mechamo Crab Kit Give life to a remote controlled “Meka-Crab” of your very own. It moves in parallel without moving up and down and raises only the tips of it’s legs to go over obstacles just like a real crab!
Read more: Build: Mechamo Crab & Halloween Hack
Mechamo Inchworm Kit Inch by inch, robot by robot: you can make a mind-blowing remote controlled “Meka-Inchworm” with this fun, no-soldering-required kit.
- The legs of the Inchworm consist of three parts: fore, hind, and center. When you observe the points of contact to the ground, you can see there are two patterns: the fore legs and the hind legs are touching the ground and the center legs are in the air while the machine is moving, and only the center legs are touching when the fore and hind legs return to their positions, or while making a turn.
- Requires no soldering to build and should take about two hours to complete.
Read more: Build: Gakken Mechamo Inchworm
Vacuum Tube Radio Kit This great kit allows you to put together a real, functional, vacuum-tube radio!
- Includes a pin straightener for the vacuum tubes, a testing microphone so you can make sure everything is hooked up correctly to produce sounds, rubber feet on the fiber board to minimize “howling,” a variable condenser to allow for finer tuning, a recreation of 60-year-old circuits, and a more powerful transformer for better volume and sound quality.
- Runs on five 9V batteries and one “C” battery (batteries not included). Tubes are 100% functional NOS tubes.
New Edison-Style Cup Phonograph Kit This replica kit uses the same technology that Thomas Edison used, replacing Edison’s waxed pipe and stylus with a plastic cup and a needle, but the end results are the same! You record your own voice on a plastic cup — and play it back!
Here’s how it works, your voice vibrates the air minutely when it gets into the horn. Then the vibration is conducted to the needle and is translated into a wavy movement of the needle and carves a groove onto the cup. When replaying, the reverse is true, the waves of the carved groove vibrate the needle and the vibration is conducted to the horn and the sound is produced from the horn.
Building the Gakken Cup Phonograph Kit Here I am, really belting it out for the cup recorder:
This is certainly no mp3 player, but that’s what is so great. It’s eerily low-fi and nostalgic; it makes your voice sound like it’s one hundred years old. You can hear and see the medium speak, and that is what makes this kit so much fun! Clear some space next to your music collection: You might never throw away a plastic cup again.
Stirling Engine Kit The Stirling Engine kit is as majestic as a piece of art, and is used to understand the basics of thermodynamics. You can try three different experiments: the generator, the fan, and the car. This kit takes about three hours to assemble and no additional special tools are needed. Price: $119.99
Karakuri Tea Serving Robot Kit Karakuri dolls are said to be one of the original forms of modern robots. The history of Karakuri (meaning mechanism that drives a machine) automatic dolls began in the early Edo period (1603-1867). This tea-serving doll is the most typical and is produced according to the “Karakuri Zui”, the only existing Karakuri mechanical doll manual, written in 1796.
- Enjoy the beauty of Japanese craftsmanship from days gone by.
- The instructions (see the “How To” tab for PDF English instructions) were written by Hosokawa Hanzo, more popularly known as “Karakuri” Hanzo, who was an engineer of the Tosa domain.
Sale Price: $59.99
SX-150 Analog Synthesizer Kit This cool little synth kit is easy to put together, requires no soldering and is easy to hack (see links below). There are no English instructions included (book and kit are in Japanese but beautifully done) but the detailed illustrations are more than enough to easily put this kit together. Check out our blog links below to see our review and hacks. Imported from Japan in partnership with Gakken. 4 AA batteries (not included).
- Size: 4.5 x 6 inches
- Controls for LFO, pitch envelope, frequency cutoff, resonance and attack/decay
- Slide controller (pen type electrode)
- Output and external input 1/8″ Jacks
- Small built-in speaker
Aurorarium Create your own aurora-like effects with this awesome device. Leave the cone on and enjoy the soft changing lights, or fill the tray with water and see the amazing aurora lights on your wall or ceiling. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build. Price: $29.95
Mini-Theremin The Theremin, invented in 1919 by Russian scientist Leon Theremin, is one of the world’s earliest fully electronic instruments, and is also unique in that it was the first musical instrument designed to be played without being touched. The eerie, other-worldly tones as heard in the films mentioned above are created by the proximity of the player’s hands to the metal antennas, with the resulting radio frequency interference being transformed into musical tones. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build and play! Price: $29.95
Even cats love playing it:
Super 8mm Mini-Projector This mini Super 8 kit will project Super 8, Single-8 and Regular 8mm film and runs on three AA batteries, it’s hand cranked with a white LED light source and comes with an empty take-up reel and bonus splicing tape. Measures 8.5 inches high and weighs a only 1/2 lb. Fun, retro kit, begging to be hacked! Made of high impact plastic. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build.
Galileo’s Telescope Kit Build your own working replica of Galileo’s famed telescope. The telescope is over 24 inches long and about 1-1/4 inches in diameter when assembled. Features a 700mm focal length and a 20 mm eyepiece. Any standard camera type tripod can be connected to this telescope. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build. Made of high impact plastic.
Newton’s Reflecting Telescope Kit A neat working replica of Newton’s Reflecting Telescope. Features a 10x magnitude. Includes its own base. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build. Made of high impact plastic.
Stereo Pinhole Camera Kit Create your own retro pix in “stereo” with this cool 35mm pinhole camera. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build. Made of high impact plastic.
Da Vinci’s Helicopter Kit Leonado Da Vinci first drew his Helical Air Screw Helicopter design in 1490. Although his design was never built, this kitset lets you create it yourself. Unfortunately though, Leonardos design was flawed, and it won’t fly!
This kit consists of two models, one based on Da Vinci’s and a modified design that does indeed fly, check out the video below. Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build. Made of high impact plastic.
Gravity Clock Kit Build your own beautiful gravity clock, customize it using own counter weight! Instructions are in Japanese but features highly detailed assembly pictures, sorry no English translation at this time. Easy to build. Made of high impact plastic.
(Oh, and The Fun Stuff)
Now, enough with the stuff you have to make yourself What about some other fun stuff from Japan: cute, weird, and awkward USB dongles and the like. What good would a Japanese gift guide be without lots of round, pastel animal-shaped tech items? A great source for weirdly adorable stuff of all sorts from Japan is Gizmine:
Holiday Shipping Deadlines:
FedEx*: Ground – Dec 15th 3-Day Saver -Dec 17th 2-Day -Dec 18th Overnight -Dec 19th
*Customers experiences on orders with these ship methods placed after these dates may vary, the dates listed are what we call “safe dates”
USPS (Any Method): Due to the high volume of mail that the postal service deals with around the holidays, order by Dec. 10th, however, many packages are lost or delayed in transit and we do not replace or refund any orders lost using this ship method, we strongly encourage you to not use this method in December.
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