JAPAN HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE ONE PLACE THAT ANYONE WHO LOVES CARS ASPIRES TO VISIT, NOT ONLY FOR THE FULL-SCALE SCENE BUT ALSO THE MINIATURE PLASTIC ONE — AFTER ALL, SCALE MODELLING HAS FOCUSED HEAVILY ON THE AUTOMOTIVE AND TUNING SCENE. I DECIDED TO HEAD FO
Regular J-side correspondent Aaron Mai travels to Shizuoka to check out the home of scale-model and RCmaster Tamiya, and finds the showroom isn’t just about scale replicas of iconic race machinery.
The company is based in Shizuoka, which is known for its high-quality green tea but also happens to be the home base for Japan’s biggest scale-model companies.
Walking out of Shizuoka station and down to the factory grounds, I was unsure what to expect, but, having built model cars for over 20 years, I was pretty excited to see where thousands of my hard-earned dollars had gone. I anticipated a showroom with a few completed kitsets on display, and perhaps a little shop bursting with souvenirs, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tamiya has created a shrine to the art of scale modelling, and there is an impressive array of life-size motoring artefacts on the showroom floor, as well as pint-sized ones. In the late ’70s and ’80s, Tamiya was the lead manufacturer of Formula 1 (F1) models, and
had such a tight relationship with many teams that they released their CAD data to Tamiya to recreate their cars in baby scale. So, when you enter the showroom, you see three mouthwatering classic Formula 1 cars on display. The iconic 1976 Tyrrell P34 six-wheeler, a Lotus 91S, and a Lotus 102B are all sitting there for the fans, a gift from the teams to Tamiya — thank-you presents don’t come any better than that!
After dragging myself away from the trio of race cars, I headed for the timeline museum room. Here, there is a time capsule of Tamiya’s most famous models, all built and on display, but the special thing about them is every single one is numero uno — the very first example of each off the production line, and each was built, photographed, and used to market the kitset to the world. Everything from classic F1 to rally, Japan Grand Touring Car (JGTC), and classic street cars are lined up here in cabinets. The number of hours and amount of patience in evidence in the models decorating the walls of this room defy belief, and the reality of why Tamiya is the go-to for many modellers is obvious from just looking around. The company has the motto of “First in Quality Around the World”, and, in the world of scale models, proportion and accuracy are things that simply can’t be compromised.
While static models are a huge part of the company’s success, it also has a vast range of radio-control kitsets that are terrorizing car parks and circuits around the world, too, featuring everything from off-road buggies to Super GT replicas in 1:10 scale, which adorn the museum shelves as well, some older and more sought-after than others, such as the 1:10-scale Group B Audi Quattro rally car.
At the exit to the museum room is a reminder of how scale modellers were often drawn into the hobby: a mind-boggling collection of Tamiya Mini 4WDs that are a mix of animated cartoon and spaceship, only in race-car form and hanging in a colourful montage from the wall. They cost around $15 each, and this is how many modellers got hooked, building their own little race car and chucking some AA batteries into it to go racing. They are easy to understand and build, even for beginners, which is just how Tamiya likes to envisage all of its products.
Once your senses recover from the overload of immaculate craftsmanship around every corner, you can head on over to the shop, because, let’s be honest, you can’t go home without a little trinket by which to remember your visit. You’ll find everything from tools to discount kitsets on offer, and, with your credit card almost jumping out of your wallet, this is one place that you really will need to exercise self-control.
As you near the end of your self-guided tour, you’ll encounter a small-scale plastic model press in operation, which gives you firsthand experience of just how a plastic model kitset is born. The plastic pellets are funnelled into the burner, and the machine injects the liquid plastic into a mould, stamps it, and releases the kitset, dropping it into a catchment box still hot, for you to take home.
By now, I was feeling pretty chuffed with my visit, and, as the staff thanked me over and over for taking the time to drop in, a final surprise was in store. Sitting right at the exit was the Raybrig NSX GT500 race car, one of the Super GT cars that has sported the Tamiya logo for over a decade. This is testament to the close relationship between Tamiya and one of the most dominant race teams in Japan.
One thing that really stood out from my time at Tamiya was just how closely the automotive and tuning scene is linked in with the scalemodel companies in Japan. When you break it down, Tamiya has done many race teams and manufacturers the honour of immortalizing their 1:1-scale icons forever, only a few times smaller and in plastic: yep, that really is plastic fantastic.
with your credit card almost jumping out of your wallet, this is one place that you really will need to exercise self-control