The bell tinkled as I opened the door.
“Kiddo, back again?” Bill looked amused.
‘I’m looking for Marvel comics,” I said.
I headed to the back and found a first edition.
Back home, I flipped through the book. I had stopped to grab some Oreos,
when an advertisement in the back caught my eye. In tiny print, it said,
“Universe in a bottle. Build your own universe using our amazing kit!
Call today. Only $19.99.” I got my snack and went back to reading, but
eventually curiosity got the better of me. I called the number in the ad
and got a message that the number didn’t exist. I decided to do an
Internet search for the toy. To my surprise, it was available on eBay!
Someone cleaning their attic had found the toy, and put it up for sale:
“An original toy, never been used, box unopened. Only $9.99.” I went
“I found something cool on eBay: a Universe in a Bottle. Can I buy it?”
“Is it a video game?”
“No, Mom, it’s a building kit. You can build your own universe in a
My mom seemed hesitant for a moment, but agreed when I persisted.
The package arrived two weeks later.
Inside was a box with a faded picture of a solar system inside a glass
bottle. There was writing on the box in Japanese and at the bottom a
single phrase in English that said, “Universe in a Bottle.” For a moment
I felt disappointed, thinking it was probably some lame toy. Opening the
box, I discovered tiny glass vials, a set of sachets containing various
chemicals, and an electronic unit with a crude LED display and buttons
and wires. There was a wide mouthed glass bottle and a large lid with a
connector on the outside and a holding base for the vials on the inside.
To my dismay, the instructions were mostly in Japanese, but there were
illustrations. A warning in poorly translated English read, “Caution! Do
not make explosion! Correctly use amounts.” Following the illustrations,
I carefully measured chemicals into the vials, adding water to some of
them, and attached the vials in the correct order to the inside lid of
the bottle. Next, I had to program instructions into the electronic
unit. I entered the values of “pi” and the gravitational constant. I
left the other values at default settings. Attaching the lid to the
bottle, I plugged the connector to the outside lid of the bottle and
connected the electronic unit to an outlet. Finally, I pushed the
“START” button. At first, nothing happened, and then…a huge bang and
electric sparks! Seconds passed. I waited in nervous anticipation. Then,
a milky cloud formed inside. I watched fascinated.
The bottle stayed like that. Finally I tired of staring at it and went
I woke to a surprise. The clouds had disappeared and several tiny
translucent bubbles were floating in the bottle. I stared captivated but
had to leave for school.
After school, my friend Seth came over to my place. He saw the bottle in
my room and thought it was cool. I told him all about it. He wondered if
I could add life to the “universe.” Then we got around to playing video
Seth’s question set me thinking. I went online and found a few links to
a forum about Japanese games from the 1970s. I posted a question in
English on adding life to the “universe.” Several days passed and I
heard nothing. Meanwhile some of the bubbles in the bottle had
solidified and were spinning.
Then one day, I was surprised to receive a response from an anonymous
user who had uploaded instructions in badly translated English.
I followed the instructions as best as I could. I checked the bottle
every day, but couldn’t tell if life was forming. Strangely, the
“planets” appeared to be getting smaller. Eventually, I had to use a
magnifying glass to see them. One day I couldn’t see anything and the
bottle seemed empty. Worried, I had done something wrong, I went back to
the instructions in the box and found mention of a Dr. Tozoku Moratzi,
professor of cosmology at Tokyo University. The kit was inspired by his
work. I found his Wikipedia page. My heart leaped as I read a brief
mention of the toy, “Universe in a Bottle”. Around thirty-seven years
ago, a Japanese toymaker, Majinto, built a kit based on Dr. Moratzi’s
theories. The toy was not a success. Majinto eventually went out of
I wrote an email to the professor.
Dear Dr. Moratzi,
I bought an unused kit for “Universe in a Bottle”. I built the universe
and saw the planets start to form and also spin. Then they grew smaller
and disappeared. Has something gone wrong?
Three days later...
I am Dr. Moratzi’s secretary. He’s in poor health but answered your
question. The planets have not disappeared. They are moving farther away
as the universe expands. The bottle isn’t empty but filled with dark
Hope this helps,
I was somewhat relieved, but something troubled me. I was unsure if the
instructions for forming life had worked. I sent another email.
Dear Ms. Hayakawa,
Thanks for responding. I followed the attached instructions for forming
life. Please ask Dr. Moratzi if they worked.
A week later...
I am sad to inform you that Dr. Moratzi passed away yesterday. In his
final days, he was in a coma. We asked your question, and he nodded.
Your first email made Dr. Moratzi happy. He thought you might be the
first to have success with the kit.
The bottle stands on my table. My mom wants to throw it away but I won’t
let her. When I am troubled, I stare at the bottle, and think of
something out there, slowly drifting away. I am filled with wonder,
mystery, and hope.