Creator of Mini 4WD – The future of plastic models interview with the president of Tamiya

Author: Akira Kobayashi, ITmedia

What do you think of when you hear the word plastic model? From Showa to the early Heisei period, plastic models were essential items for boys. There will be many people who are excited about Zero Battle, Yamato, Mini 4WD and Gundam. Recently, however, there are few stores selling plastic models in the town, and I do not hear that it is popular among children. Is the content called plastic model already outdated?

I wanted to know that and visited the “58th Shizuoka Hobby Show” held in Shizuoka City from May 8th to 11th. The Shizuoka Model Teaching Material Association is the host of the “Shizuoka Hobby Show”, which is said to be the world’s largest plastic model and radio equipment control model trade fair. Mr. Toshisaku Tamiya (84), who is the president of the union and president of Tamiya Co., Ltd., responded to a solo interview with ITmedia Business Online on May 10.

President Tamiya, the parent of the Mini 4WD, has been leading the Japanese plastic model industry, which is highly regarded in the world, from its inception. The Mini 4WD is currently popular not only in Japan but also in Southeast Asia and other countries. We asked President Tamiya to talk about the current status of plastic models and the future of plastic models in Japan that has reached the era of retiring.

Tamiya Shunsaku (born 1934, Shizuoka City). After graduating from Waseda University for 58 years, he joined Tamiya Trading Company, which is run by his father. I am involved in planning and designing wooden models, but in the crisis of the inflow of plastic models from the West, I made a major transition from wooden models to plastic model models. The company has been exhibiting for the first time at the Nuremberg International Toy Fair, where toy manufacturers from around the world gather in 1982, and has been exhibiting for 51 consecutive years since the flagship of Quality World. Efforts have been made to improve model quality control and the Tamiya brand, including instructing the establishment of a customer service department at an early stage. In addition, illustrator representative of the times such as Shigeru Komatsuzaki, Ueha Hachiro, and Yoshiyuki Takahara was appointed. The box drawing that is the face of the plastic model was developed beyond the role of package decoration, and a painting style called box art was established. Shizuoka model teaching materials cooperative president since 1994. The Shizuoka Hobby Show is held every May, contributing to regional revitalization. He has concurrently served as Chairman and President of Tamiya since 17 years. In his book, “The work of the Tamiya model” “The people who made the Tamiya model: The legendary plastic toy shop” (Bunharu Bunko)

70% of children have no plamo experience! ?
― First of all, I will serve as the president of the teaching materials cooperative. It seems that elementary and middle school students and high school students were invited as a new attempt at this hobby show.

It is a plastic model that was once referred to as passing rituals for boys, but it is said that children today have not even touched more than 70% have made it. If so, I invited to a hobby show, saw it all, and thought that I would like to get in touch with it, I planned. This is a proposal of Governor Kawahira of Shizuoka Prefecture.

When Governor Kawakatsu first saw it at the 2018 Hobby Show, he said, “Mr. Tamiya, I have to show it to my students.” However, the space was too small and it was difficult to call students and students in crowded venues, so I decided to extend the session and make an invitation date. It will cost money to extend the session, but the prefecture also supported me.

As a result, I think it was a great success to invite elementary and junior high school students and high school students. I showed how plastic models are made, what raw materials are, how they are injection molded, and how they are assembled and played. The children have already turned their eyes and are eating into plastic models. We’re sorry. It’s been a few years for children to be surrounded by plastic models (laughs). The teachers who led were also looking forward to it.

After all, the invitation date was only one day of May 8th, but 5200 elementary, junior high, and high school students from Shizuoka prefecture gathered. I hope this will continue from next year.

― In recent years, with the spread of the Internet and SNS, such trade fairs have decreased, but the Shizuoka Hobby Show has been a success.

Aside from the invitation day of the newly established elementary, junior high, and high school students, two days of the four days of the exhibition period will be the business meeting for agents and retailers, and the next two days will be open to general customers. This time the number of visitors will be over 80,000. The Spielwaren Messe, which is held every year in Nuremberg, Germany, is famous as an international trade fair for plastic models. However, this is an international toy trade fair, and some of them show plastic models, so the Shizuoka Hobby Show may be the largest in the world as a trade show limited to plastic models and radio control.

In the past, trade shows of plastic models were held in the United States and the United Kingdom, but have already disappeared. I have been in the United States since I was 31 years old, but plastic model makers themselves are gone in the United States.

Tamiya has been exhibiting at Spielwaren Messe for 51 years, but in recent years the number of companies exhibiting at the Messe itself has decreased and the exhibition period has become shorter. Tamiya is the largest at the plastic model booth, but I can not deny the feeling that the Messe itself is in a recession.

Declining Plamo trade fair
― Why is the trade show decreasing?

Although it is influenced by the Internet, I think it is because the organizers of the trade fair lack the wisdom. It is necessary to have a high entrance fee and a device to call more people, and I think it is necessary to reconsider the significance of the Messe itself.

Plastic models are said to have been reduced in retail stores in recent years and mail orders have increased, but I think that there is a desire for customers to want to see and touch the real thing. For that purpose, a fair will be necessary.

In addition, during the business meeting of the hobby show, Tamiya has a lot of retailers coming to Tamiya’s head office to hold a party in the hall. Being able to hear the raw voices of retailers who can not usually touch it is worthwhile to replace it.

― I hear that many customers from overseas are visiting.

This year, buyers from around 20 countries around the world visited the hobby show. Originally, we were eagerly coming from Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, etc. Recently, it looks like negotiations from Germany, the US, France, the UK, etc. All the buyers who have visited say “It’s really good to come.” When I come to the Shizuoka Hobby Show, I think I have something to gain. The “something” is different depending on the person. The Shizuoka Hobby Show is becoming the “World Hobby Show”.

Recently I feel that in the euro area only countries with strong economies survive. In the Netherlands, Belgium, and Greece, as well as in Spain, we have no business partners. All agencies have gone. It means that globalization is progressing so much among plastic model industry. I think it is a failure of globalism. The euro area is different in culture and language, so it will be difficult for all countries to survive.

Heisei is “the time when we lost the game”
― I heard that there is a joint exhibition where plastic model fans from all over Japan bring their works with us as another attraction of the Shizuoka Hobby Show.

This is an event that began 30 years ago, but using a part of the exhibition hall, modelers will exhibit their own plastic models in a circle. This year, about 10,000 works were exhibited in the 293 circle. The good thing about this exhibition is that it is not a contest, but everyone is able to create and exhibit the works they want to make. This exhibition is also an international event, with more and more circles participating from overseas. I’m very passionate.

― I saw the venue, but it did show a big excitement indeed. Until now, Showa, Heisei and plastic models have been essential items for children, but what do you think plastic models are going to be in a new era called Reiwa.

I can not say how big things will happen in the future plastic model, but I said even in the greetings of the beginning of the year, “Heisei is a time when I lost the game”. The second half of Heisei was losing the game.

I think I want plastic model to beat the game by all means in the era of regal. Certainly the game is interesting. But the plastic model has an analog that is not in the game, which is a great attraction. As I always say, I think that Japanese manufacturing starts with plastic models.

Today’s children said that more than 70% had never made plastic models, but by making plastic models, they know the correct usage of cutters and drivers and acquire the ability to read assembly instructions properly . And above all, by making plastic models, you can know the real thing, “Oh, I’m getting rid of four wheels,” and “Automobiles are like this.”

We want you to know that you have learned the basics of manufacturing by making the most analog plastic models. It’s an analog plastic model that competes with virtual games.

Backstage of the “Mini 4WD” birth First of all “do not fly without sounding”

― From here, I will speak as president of model maker Tamiya. Domestic plastic models reached the 60th anniversary in 18 years. Speaking of Tamiya, the MM series tanks, the 1/350 battleship Yamato, and the zero battle of 1/32 are strong, but I hear that the mini 4WD series currently occupies a large part. The Mini 4WD and the radio control also collaborated with a car company.

We also collaborate with Toyota Motor Corporation, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. and Mazda Motor Corporation. Remember the name of the car since you were a child. That is the policy of the Japanese automobile industry. Today, Toyota’s car is on display, but I think it would be nice if it helped me to leave the cars of young people.

The toy is complete, but as I mentioned earlier, the plastic model is assembled by hand. If you make a plastic model, you can also imagine the structure of the car.

― In terms of business, the part that mini 4WD occupies is growing.

Certainly, the genre of scale models such as tanks and planes is quite difficult now. But cars are doing well. The Mini 4WD is not a scale model, but a motorized four-wheel drive. Although some designs are deformed from the actual vehicle, most are fictitious designs. Run it on the course and compete for speed.

The first kit of the Mini 4WD was made more than 30 years ago. At that time, there was a four wheel drive boom in the actual car. Audi quattro became a topic, and a magazine specializing in four wheel drive also appeared. I thought, “This is the age of 4WD,” and I thought about the mini 4WD in terms of making a “running 4WD model” that is cheap for children as well.

At the time there were four-wheeled products in the radio controlled car, but the children were too expensive to get out of their way. Because only 10,000 yen or more and 20,000 yen or more were all included in the transmitter alone. That’s why everyone was watching with their fingers. Therefore, the mini 4WD was made by thinking “What is the 4WD that children can afford?” Originally Tamiya had a track record of making slot racing cars around the Showa 40 and selling them around the world, so it was a hand to make a model of a running car.

― You targeted children.

However, when I actually sold it, it did not ring and did not fly. I can not sell enough to be disappointed. I received advice from a famous animator J. Otsuka Yasuo (editorial note: animator who also worked on “Lupin III”) and I made a comical mini 4 wheel drive, but this was also a small hit.

After trial and error, I specialized in speed and sold explosively. There was a collaboration with Shogakkan’s “Corokoro Comic”, but I realized that what children are looking for is speed. So I made a dedicated course and started to have a competition. Then the children devise a lot to speed up. Make the body cover as thin and light as possible, or make the chassis heavier so that stability is achieved at the corners. I thought the child was a play genius. So the big boom came over the end of the Showa era and two times of about 6 and 7 years of Heisei.

In Southeast Asia ‘Dash!
― I remember that well. The children who played with the mini 4WD at that time are now fathers in their 30s and 40s.

The father is doing mini 4WD with the child again. It is now only about this mini-shikakeri that father teaches manufacturing to children. Besides, recently, it is said that mother and daughter are together and they enjoy mini 4WD with family. I am glad to see the whole family coming to the competition.

The Mini 4WD has gone through a few booms and is now in a stable period. The main customers are from elementary school students to fathers in their 30s and 40s. Tamiya holds an All-Japan Championship called “Japan Cup” every year as a mini 4WD competition, but in addition to that, it is carrying out mini 4WD events in cooperation with large shopping malls, electronics retailers and car dealers. You It may be because it is judged that it is an excellent event that gathers children.

Mini 4WD is also strong overseas. Southeast Asia ‘Dash! Some of the animes on the 4th Series have been aired and are popular in Indonesia, Hong Kong, etc. Recently, offers from New Zealand and the United States have come. It is a feeling that the Mini 4WD is taking over the world.

“The ideal teaching materials” programming robot
― This time, I saw an exhibition of “programming robots” for children who learn programming through manufacturing. This is a new attempt.

As you can see from the name Shizuoka Model Teaching Material Association, originally, for the manufacturer of Shizuoka, model teaching materials have been used since ancient times. Tamiya has also been working on a series of educational materials for children called the “Fun Crafting Series”. Solar cars and centipede robots are still selling hit products.

This programming robot was designed in line with the need for programming education in elementary schools from 2020. The latest one is equipped with a microcomputer board for education, and can be controlled and operated from a PC. I think this robot is an ideal teaching material that you can learn programming while having fun. The kit that Tamiya has recently released is a little expensive at around 10,000 yen, but contains an electronic board. I do not know how much it sells, but has received high praise from overseas buyers.

― When listening to the story like this, the direction of the new plastic model can be seen in a vague manner.

As I said earlier, I think that the Japanese manufacturing tradition starts with making plastic models. Mini 4WD is used in school classes in Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. However, in Japan, unfortunately, it is said that things from certain manufacturers can not be used for classes.

The plastic model also helps children’s education and fosters imagination. At the same time, I will teach you the basics of manufacturing and cutting, scraping, and assembling. I will do my best to offer new plastic models in a new era. I would like to make Dewa “the age of plastic model counterattack”.

What image do you want?
― Lastly, Tamiya, who has many unique talented employees, what kind of people are you looking for now?

It doesn’t matter at all which school you are out of. Anyway people who like models and plastic models are good. Recently, people who have changed jobs from other companies such as automobile companies are also active.

I often say to new employees that “I can quit as soon as Tamiya gets tired”. Because if you don’t think that job is interesting, you can not do a good job after all. Right?

I don’t care about my academic background, but I would like to get a university if I can. Education is helpful when teaching your subordinates. General education subjects I studied at university are still useful. Natural science theory. University is not just about taking credits. After all study is good.

Author profile
Noboru Kobayashi
Freelance writer, editor. Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1957. After graduating from university, worked at a publisher. “The work of the Tamiya model” (paperback edition, Shunsaku Tamiya), “The Legendary Plamoya” (the paperback edition, Shunsaku Tamiya), “The Japan plastic model 亡” (Hiroshi Ida), “The 50th History of the Japanese plastic model” (Japan) Involved in editing the plastic model industrial cooperative edition), “Shizuoka model whole history” (Shizuoka model teaching material cooperative edition). A recent book is “Nippon plastic model sixty-year history” (Munharu Shinsho).

Source in Japanese language: ITmedia

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