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Shizuoka stakes its claim as hobbyist magnet

SHIZUOKA--Welcome to Hobby Town, Japan!

With a giant robot and a futuristic fighter aircraft on its side, the city of Shizuoka is going all-out to cement its status as a national center for hobbyists.

In late July, it opened the Shizuoka Hobby Fair, replete with vintage plastic models and guarded by an 18-meter statue of the Mobile Suit Gundam robot, in front of JR Higashi-Shizuoka Station.
When it comes to plastic model kits, Shizuoka Prefecture is the nation's leading production center. The prefectural capital itself is home to numerous plastic model makers.

According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, total shipments of plastic model kits in 2008 were worth 19.9 billion yen ($232 million). About 80 percent, or 16 billion yen worth, came from Shizuoka Prefecture.

(At 18 meters, the Mobile Suit Gundam robot statue is a commanding presence in Shizuoka.
It can be seen from the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train.)

At the time of the survey, 17 production centers out of 45 nationwide were located within the prefecture, many of them in the city of Shizuoka.

In May, the city hosted the 49th Shizuoka Hobby Show, which is the world's largest hobby confab.

The Shizuoka Hobby Museum was set up as part of the hobby fair to showcase the half-century history of plastic model kit production in Japan.

Family portrait
(Fans look into a showcase containing plastic models and other items at the Shizuoka Hobby Museum.)

Its exhibits are presented in 23 segments, covering various production periods. Each one shows the plastic models that best represent the period.

Among the rarer items are a replica of a 1958 model of the U.S. submarine Nautilus, the first injection-molded plastic kit produced in Japan, and a model of the I-series submarine, used by the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

The exhibit showcases a number of other items coveted by plastic model enthusiasts, such as the Tetsujin 28-go robot, considered a trailblazer for the numerous character models that followed, and a 1:12 scale Honda Formula One racing car, which was highly praised for its detailed perfection.

Other booths are dedicated to proud originals offered by local manufacturers.

Tamiya Inc., headquartered in Shizuoka, has put on display the Gun Blaster, which is 32 times larger than its popular Mini4WD radio-controlled car kits.

Aoshima Bunka Kyozai Co., also based in Shizuoka, is featuring its Lamborghini Countach model. The Italian sports car once fueled a wave of supercar popularity.

Hasegawa Corp., based in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, brought out the big guns with its 1:350 scale model of the Japanese battleship Nagato.

Other exhibits include the Honda Super Cub and the Subaru 360, produced by die-cast model car maker MMP Co. (EBBRO), headquartered in Shizuoka, and a replica of the five-story pagoda of the Horyuji temple produced by Woody JOE Co., a wood model maker based in Shizuoka.

Here again, the most eye-catching attractions are related to Gundam.

Using a model of a Core Fighter plane, Bandai Co., the maker of Gunpla plastic models, has reproduced the scene in the final episode of the popular "Mobile Suit Gundam" anime series where Amuro Ray, the central character, makes his escape from the falling space fortress A Baoa Qu.

The Core Fighter, as well as the giant Gundam statue that stands guard in front of Higashi-Shizuoka Station, has become a must-see for Gundam fans.

The statue, which now holds a "beam saber" in its right hand, is the full 18 meters in height as written in the series. It was built to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Bandai's Gunpla plastic model series.

Over six weeks last summer, the behemoth attracted 4.15 million visitors to its display in Tokyo's Odaiba district, and it wasn't even holding the beam saber.

Moving the statue to Shizuoka, where Bandai's factory for the Gunpla series is located, was considered a "homecoming" for Gundam.

The Shizuoka Hobby Fair will continue through March 27, 2011. Admission is free, except for the Shizuoka Hobby Museum.

Admission to the museum is 600 yen for junior high school students and older and 200 yen for elementary schoolchildren.

By A.S. on Aug 26, 2010
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