Toy Collector Extraordinaire, Visionary and Historian

Roberto Shimizu

Amassing more than a million pieces of anything is nothing short of impressive! Whether they are coins, stamps, or dolls, this endeavor requires many things, but above all, it requires the collector to have some sort of vision for the journey ahead and for the legacy left behind. When Roberto Shimizu began collecting toys at the age of 10, he may not, at that age, have had a concrete vision of his journey ahead, but one thing is certain, he had all the essential elements in place and necessary for him to grow his collection, and now sees its immeasurable historical worth.

Born in 1945 in Mexico City into a family of Japanese immigrants, the trained architect recalls how he began accumulating toys associated with Mexican Pop Culture that would eventually become one of the largest concentrations in the world and is now partially displayed in his Colonia Doctores MUJAM museum since 2006. “It really all started by accident because my parents weren’t collectors and neither was I. They immigrated to Mexico in 1928 and made a living through a stationary and toy store and plastics factory they owned in this neighborhood. Though, I studied and graduated as an architect from UNAM, I helped out with the family businesses because, fortunately, we had lots of success with them. We were lucky to have the resources, along with ample storage space in which to store all the items I began accumulating.  Aside from this, I think God blessed me with a gift to collect things and plus, my father would say to me, ‘Beto, esto se esta perdiendo muy rapido en Mexico, y si lo guardas, pos guardalo.’ (Beto, this is quickly disappearing in Mexico and if you hold onto it, well then, hold onto it.) Thus began Roberto’s collection of Mexican pop culture that nowadays numbers well over a million pieces, however, he’s only able to display approximately 40,000 due to space limitations.

“This is what some would classify as an ‘encyclopedic’ collection because of the diversity of items contained in it”, says Roberto. He takes pride in the fact that several of the items he collected in trips to Europe, Japan and all throughout Mexico represent anonymous artists and that most of the toys have been played with and possess the “good vibes” children inherently leave behind in their innocent and playful interaction.

Mural on exterior of MUJAM

Vintage movie posters

So, what was the impetus in starting the MUJAM in 2006? “I wanted to share my passion with my three sons, Diego, Mark & Roberto Jr. and also my wife because I want these things to be valued for their historical worth, and quite frankly, I don’t want them to end up in some garage sale or auction when I’m not around anymore. I think now, they are all equally excited about what we have here and are able to share with the public.”

Roberto also shares that the Museum is his contribution to his Colonia Doctores neighborhood that has meant so much to him throughout his life. “You know, a very well-known and super wealthy individual once approached me about selling my collection and having it displayed in a swanky part of our city, but I declined. It would be meaningless to others, plus, I see this more than just a collection of toys and pop art. I see it as telling a story about Mexico’s history and the creative output we’ve managed to generate over time. I’m also excited about the youth of today, high school kids and younger, coming in here and expressing an interest in all these items that may seem very foreign to them in this day and age.”

As much as Roberto says his collection represents a historical timeline in Mexico’s history, one thing clearly becomes evident; the contents in the MUJAM are clearly the vision of a man connected to history and his neighborhood, and for that, we must all tip our hats and be thankful for the preservation of a treasure!

Mr. Shimizu with his son, MUJAM's Creative Director, Roberto Jr. would like to thank Mr. Shimizu and son Roberto for their generosity and time during a recent visit to the MUJAM.

**Please note that this interview was conducted in Spanish and later translated into English. Attempts were made to achieve accuracy in all content.

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