It’s a toy story as kids are taught old-school values

Krik Yoonpan talks to visitors at the Million Toys Museum he opened in 2008.

While technological advances suck kids into a world of handheld gadgetry insulated from reality, one man is trying to cushion this effect with a sprawling museum where toys can help revive old-school values relating to family and education — and it’s not just child’s play.

Krik Yoonpan, an artist and career teacher, opened his Million Toys Museum in 2008. It is housed in Mr Krik’s private residence in the historical quarters of Ayutthaya, the former Thai capital. Kids are charged 20 baht and adults 50 baht (100 baht for foreigners).

Here you can see two floors full of toys of all shapes, sizes and nationalities, but with a heavy emphasis on Japanese robots, Doraemon, Astro Boy, Marvel heroes like Iron Man and Captain America, and Star Wars figurines ranging from Storm Troopers to Jar Jar Binks.

For the most part, the toys are neatly arranged on glass-encased shelves. There are also life-size figures, to add to the fun. But not all is what it seems. For a start, there are “only” a few hundred thousand toys.

“The name ‘million toys’ is more of a goal than a reality,” says the 58-year-old, who hopes the toys’ magnetic appeal shows kids there is more to life than turning off all the lights and plugging into a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

Mr Krik’s goal is multi-faceted: To bring families together for a nice day trip where parents can talk to and educate their children; to offer a venue where children are inspired to ask questions; and to help instil in young minds some core values.

“Parents have a responsibility to persuade their kids to take a break from computer games and learn how to develop their knowledge through the arts or even toys,” he told the Bangkok Post.

The museum, which was 30 years in the making, also features a huge wall-to-wall painting showing the children how they are connected to various institutions in Thailand and are integral to the country.

One first-time visitor, a seven-year-old from Kanchanaburi known as Sun, was visibly awestruck by the sheer volume of toys on display, especially the superheroes.

“I normally like playing computer games at home. But I feel good at seeing so many toys here and I enjoy looking at them,” he said before dashing off. An avid collector, Mr Krik recalls buying his first figurine in Tokyo in 1982 when he attended the NOMA literary prize awarded by Unesco.

At the ceremony he picked up an award for a book of illustrations he had published called “Thai Farmers” that shone a light on the nation’s agricultural society.

Afterwards he visited the Kitahara Tin Toy museum in Yokohama where he was impressed by how owner Teruhisa Kitahara had amassed thousands of toys in the space of a decade.

“After that trip I began collecting toys produced in Thailand and overseas as I hoped to one day have a toy museum of my own, just like Mr Kitahara’s,” he said.

Mr Krik was an undergraduate at the time studying education at Srinakharinwirot University.

The museum appeals to youngsters with its diverse assortment of strange and familiar toys, making for a fun family day out.

Collecting toys soon became a burning hobby but not his chief love, which was drawing illustrations of comic book heroes and other figures from popular cultural. He used the money from text and picture books featuring his drawings to buy the museum premises.

Mr Krik now teaches literature and drawing at his alma mater where he holds an associate professorship at the faculty of humanities.

“Drawing and reading books are vital tools in helping young people build up their imaginative powers,” he said. “I teach literature, which lays a foundation for their spiritual and intellectual growth.”

He said children who lack discipline and a strong sense of duty are most at risk of becoming addicted to smartphones, computer games and other high-tech devices.

“They have to learn the classics and traditions while also grasping the new technology,” he said. “They need to learn about discipline and duty as well.”

Mr Krik sees technology as a double-edged sword and believes children must be reminded of its pitfalls as well as the promise it heralds. He said he takes inspiration from other countries.

“Look at the reading culture in Japan. The Japanese are reading something wherever they go, at public parks, on trains or at the convenience store,” he said. “It has become habitualised.”

Like drawing and playing with toys, leisure activities including sports, playing a musical instrument or reading can also steer children away from the “technology trap”, he said.

As an author of children’s literature, Mr Krik said he is used to using cartoon characters to make a point.

“You can see that most of the toys in this museum are heroic characters like Ultraman, Spider-Man or Astro Boy, who is also known as the Mighty Atom in Japan,” he said.

The museum appeals to youngsters with its diverse assortment of strange and familiar toys, making for a fun family day out.

“The children’s appreciation of the toy grows as it broadens their minds,” he added.

He said he hopes the sight of less familiar toys “triggers their curiosity” so they develop a natural urge to ask questions and expand their knowledge.

Born in the eastern province of Chachoengsao, Mr Krik, a father of two girls, was raised in an environment where he absorbed old traditions.

“I inherited a sense of art from my father. He gave me a perforated piece of paper placed over another sheet of paper and asked me to paint the colors inside the holes. I was amazed to see the coloured dots that remained when I removed the top piece of paper,” he said.

With a keen desire to learn about the arts he enrolled in the faculty of education at Srinakharinwirot University’s Prasarnmit campus, selecting the arts as his major.

“I received the NOMA prize when I was a third-year student. It opened a new chapter in my life as it taught me that I not only loved the arts, but also toys,” he said, flashing a grin.

“After that, I sought out local toys every time I went on a trip to add to my collection,” he said, adding “most of my toys come from Japan”.

The first doll he ever bought — in Japan — had red hair and a red costume. “I don’t know why but she caught my fancy,” he said.

The same light of excited curiosity lit up the faces of many of the youngsters at the museum when the Post visited. One four-year-old boy called Nong was peering into a glass cabinet to get a closer look at the Ultra Man models. His mother, Kannikar Kocharin, said she and her husband brought him to the museum because of his obsession with toys.

“I’m sure this will help his imagination blossom,” she said.