“I saw something in street toys. I saw moments of joy, and perhaps the fear that this Mexico was disappearing.”
- Roberto Shimizu, toy collector.
What does a 65-year-old man do when he has one million toys in his personal collection? Mexican architect Roberto Shimizu opened an underground museum at his home in Mexico City
The architect’s collection is not the result of a short-term buying spree. Instead he started collecting very young, back in 1955. Shimizu’s parents were Japanese immigrants who ran a business importing food and toys so his earliest treasures were gifts from them. But most of his toys are objects he recovered from flea markets, bazaars, scrap merchants and a network of suppliers. Today Shimizu has the biggest and most important toy collection in all of Latin America, with pieces that span the 19th and 20th centuries.
To someone else, the million-toy collection might look like a fantastic tourist attraction and a chance to make money. But Shimizu deliberately located his museum in a working-class neighborhood, Colonia Doctores, a place people go to buy stolen car parts. He calls it “a live museum for living Mexicans.”
And rather than charge admission, Shimizu has kept the entrance almost free, even though he has no public or private financial support for the enterprise. “I want to show Mexican youth that old toys are truly creative and they encourage sociability,” he says, complaining about the isolating nature of today’s videogames.
The museum is a family-run business. Shimizu’s son, Roberto Shimizu Jr., organizes visits and events, like the popular collectors’ fair, Collec. Twice a month, collectors of all sorts converge in an empty floor of this museum to exchange their ideas, objects and obsessions. Anyone can sign up for Collec and have a stand. Emerging Mexican artists showcase their work next to comic collectors, publishing houses and freelance designers. All sorts of aficionados and treasure hunters come to this unique fair to explore and discover.