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Nanoblocks: Small is beautiful

To consider our need for objects that remind us of what is important to each one of us.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To consider our need for objects that remind us of what is important to each one of us.

Preparation and materials

  • Display some Lego and Nanoblock models, or project images of these (especially Nanoblocks, as the models are very small).
  • A bonsai tree, if you can get hold of one.
  • Download pictures of the World Heritage Sites mentioned in the assembly.


  1. Lego is one of the world’s most popular toys. The little plastic bricks and oddly shaped yellow figures are a staple of many children’s bedrooms, and many adults remember them fondly. Older Lego fans have created extraordinary designs, often involving hundreds of pounds’ worth of bricks and covering huge areas.
  2. In Japan, Lego is also popular. But Japan is a unique market for creative toys. Japan has a very high population and most of the country consists of uninhabitable mountains. Millions of people are crammed into small flat areas around the coasts. Because of this, land is very expensive and many Japanese people live in tiny apartments, with little excess space. This is a main factor in the Japanese appreciation for small, intricately detailed objects, the most famous example of which is bonsai. Bonsai are tiny trees, the size of small house plants. Owners often trim them regularly, to ensure that they remain neat and presentable. Yet this style, small and elegant, can also be seen in Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, as well as in other areas of Japanese culture.
  3. This unique situation created a gap in the market for Nanoblocks: a small construction toy with tiny pieces used to make models of famous landmarks, as well as other things. It is more of an adult hobby than a child’s toy, and very difficult, owing to the small size of the pieces. But the completed models fit the bill: they are tiny and very detailed.
  4. The choice of global landmarks, such as Mont Saint-Michel in France, or the Cape Canaveral Space Centre in Florida, says a lot about Japanese culture as well. Japan boasts some of the most highly regarded World Heritage Sites, such as the ancient temples of Kyoto and the spectacular Himmeji Castle. Yet much of modern Japan is made up of concrete, steel and glass. Whole cities were destroyed in the final years of the Second World War, and not just the atomic bomb targets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Kyoto was spared because of its beauty, but many other monuments to the unique Japanese culture were destroyed as Allied forces sought to destroy Japan’s industrial capacity and demoralize her population. Today, preserving and cherishing existing World Heritage Sites at home and abroad is an important part of the Japanese psyche.
  5. The outside world remains fascinated by all things Japanese: small, detailed objects are popular across the world. The greater opportunities for tourism today mean that the World Heritage Sites modelled in Nanoblocks are more accessible than ever. Yet as wars continue and the global climate changes, many of these parts of human history are at risk. We must ensure that these places do not go the way of so many parts of Japanese history: remaining only as memories, or little models on a shelf.

Time for reflection

If you could make a tiny model of something that is important to you, what would it be?

In your mind, hold that place, or object.

Now be thankful for it.


May we all work to ensure that these special places remain in reality as well as in our hearts and minds.


Download some typical Japanese music to play as the students leave.

Publication date: April 2013   (Vol.15 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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