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Hands-on Ningen Gakki Japanese Toy Turns Friends into Instruments

A new Japanese toy wants you to slap your friends to make music. The Ningen Gakki musical device by toy company Takara Tomy turns the human body into an instrument when you tap, poke, squeeze and slap other players.

The Ningen Gakki — which means “human instrument” in Japanese — is shaped like a miniature person (4.25 inches by 3.75 inches by 1 inch) and has metal sensors on its hands and feet.

The concept blends sensor technology and music with social interaction. When any two of the four electrodes are touched, the device creates a sound and the current is conducted through the players’ bodies. The sounds are determined by where you touch the skin, so poking someone on the nose will create a different sound than slapping someone high- five.

The device, which takes 2 AAA batteries, is easy to use, but since its instructions are only in Japanese, a few trial-and-error attempts are needed to figure out what exactly you’re doing.

Here’s how it works: After hitting the “on” button and sitting through the extremely high-pitched “hello!” and greeter song, users can select one of three different modes: song mode, sound effect mode and drums mode. Hitting the “OK” button confirms the selection.

Although this sounds pretty self-explanatory, it’s difficult to navigate between the modes and determine why the device is playing songs, making noises and showing drum beats before you’ve even started. Be warned that the Ningen Gakki previews your selection with sound before you start, so even when you think you’ve already begun, the device may still be feeling things out.

Song mode allows players to pick from one of 10 songs. Although its fun to tap along to songs you may know — each touch advances the song one note — this mode doesn’t leave much room for creativity. Whether you tap someone on the hand or poke their nose, the song and notes are predetermined, so it limits experimentation.

However, the sound effect mode takes the device to the next level, allowing users access to 30 different sounds to play from, from animal noises to doorbells. Each varies depending on which body part is touched.

But perhaps the most dynamic and exciting feature is drums mode, which allows the body to become a drums set. Depending on where and how quickly a hit is made, drums mode allows players to create beat-box sounds and full rhythm songs as different body parts are touched.

We found that the Ningen Gakki is most fun when more people are playing at once. In fact, not everyone has to be touching the sensors to create sounds. As long as two people are touching the sensors simultaneously, others can form a large circle around the two and still play.

For example, if someone is touching the arm or leg of a person who is touching a sensor, and then another person is hooked onto that person and so on, a full circle can be made and the current can be conducted throughout everyone’s bodies.

To shut off the device — or after it’s been idle for a few minutes — the Ningen Gakki will say so long and power down. If you can get past its excruciatingly high-pitched voice, the Ningen Gakki can make an interesting bizarre toy for an ice breaker or a party.

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