Tokyo: Setagaya’s wonderful antique snow globes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rare Taiwan-made snow globes enclose miniature merry-go-rounds.

The Snowdome Museum in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward exhibits snow globes from around the world. The museum’s transparent spheres enclose microcosms of mystical landscapes, miniature dolls, buildings and more. When turned upside down or given a good shake, the globes’ tiny snow-like flakes briefly swirl and twirl before settling back down at their bottoms.

The snow globe is said to have been first introduced at the Paris world exposition of 1889. A viscous liquid mixture of water, glycerin and other substances in the sphere helped give the “snow” a convincing and realistic look.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Snow globes on sale at the museum’s shop

The Japan Snowdome Association, a nonprofit organization working to popularize snow globes, has been operating the museum since 2006. Comprised of about 2,200 items from around the world, the museum exhibits rare and valuable works collected through donations and other means, and sells imported products.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An electric snow globe in action

Part of the exhibition includes a collection of Taiwanese snow globes adorned with gold and silver motifs that have little merry-go-rounds inside. As they are turned over, glittery flakes spin around and sparkle in the dome. If a key attached to the globes is wound, a music box plays melodies and the little merry-go-round horses go around and around.

Other types of snow globes on display at the museum include one with a model of the Statue of Liberty in it and another that resembles a birdcage. Prices range from about ¥1,500 to about ¥70,000.

Among the displays are many valuable vintage pieces, including one made in the United States more than 100 years ago and another created in Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, more than 70 years ago. The passage of time is clearly represented in the globes that have lost half of their liquid due to evaporation.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A large Christmas-themed snow globe

A museum official said that guests never tire of viewing the ephemeral dancing “snow” and that it gives them peace of mind.

Visitors to the museum can immerse themselves in imaginative worlds thanks to the vast collection of small and snowy globes.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Snowdome Museum: Room 109, 2-4-5, Ikejiri, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo