Traveling Modelers Guide to Osaka, Japan
by Tania Woodbury
flickr Photo Gallery
I’m just back from my second trip to Japan. Narita first, then a short hop to Osaka the next day. We had a nice view of Mt Fuji in the dusk, and the lights of Osaka/Kobe on arrival.
Narita was nothing to mention, either model-wise or for anything else. Our hotel was near the airport, in a smallish traditional type village with a featureless mall. Tokyo proper is over an hour by train, and we arrived late and only had limited time the next day.
The next night was Osaka. Late arrival followed by a beer and a “curry in a hurry” at a traditional fast food place across the road from the hotel. I find the local food in Japan is excellent and cheap, and always an experience (more on that later).
Next day and it was time to hit the shops. Kaz Shibuya, from here on the list, had suggested that I check out Romu-romu model car garage (www.romu-romu.com) Kaz was also gracious enough to translate the address, and it turned out to be less than a two minute walk from the main JR Osaka rail station, which in turn was just a 10 min free shuttle-bus ride from our hotel.
The underground system is color-coded and quite simple to use, once you have been shown the ropes. The main trap is knowing which exit to use, as being one block out when you get to street level can completely screw up your sense of direction, and many of the street signs are not in English. Aside from that, the trains are incredibly clean, frequent, and efficient, as well as cheap.
Romu and Yodobashi are only about 200m apart, and very close to the main Japan Rail Osaka Station. But I would have struggled to find it without Kaz’s instructions (5th floor above a menswear store). When I arrived at around 10:30, the door was locked. The sign was in Kanji, but I managed to figure out that they opened at either 11 or 12 depending on day.
Fortunately the enormous Yodobashi Umeda electronics and camera (and fashion and food and almost everything else) store was nearby, so it was easy to fill in some time. In the hobbies department, I found the new Tamiya Nissan GTR kit, but resisted the temptation to buy.
My fellow crew members and I also wanted to find some 1/400 scale Dragon Wings, or other brand, models of aircraft we have flown. Between us we ended up with Air New Zealand Boeing 737s, 767s and 777s. Couldn’t find the right 747s though…. I’m sure that somewhere in Osaka there is a shop specialising in them, but unless you know where to look, you will never find it. I also bought an Ixo 1/43 McLaren F1 GTR Long Tail…just because it is a McLaren and it’s orange…and best of all, it was on sale!
By now it was coming up on 11 o’clock, and I could feel my yen burning a hole in my pocket. Time to head up the street to Romu-romu. There is nothing in English at street level, and without knowing it was above a menswear store, I would never have found it. Certainly you have no chance of just “stumbling across it,” as you could walk past 100 times and never know it was there. I’m convinced there must be numerous other treasure troves around Osaka, but they remain hidden to me.
The elevator to the 5th floor opens into a dimly-lit corridor, with Romu-romu being the first door on the right. My photos show the interior of what is no bigger than a small office. This time the door was open, and inside was a car-lover’s paradise. It is a small store, a bit like an office lined with glass cabinets, but with no windows. Walking through the door, on one side was the collection of CMC diecasts, and the other 1/43s from Minichamps, Spark, and others. Down the side of the counter behind a Honda Racing flag hanging from the ceiling, I spied a very small work area with a young man hard at work. Not sure if this is where they do their build-ups. If so, I admire his perserverance!
The range of 1/43 kits is very good. Most of the Tameo and Silverline kits were in stock, as well as a selection of Renaissance, Racing 43, Marsh, and Provence. The things that I enjoyed looking at though were the resin and metal “garage kits” mainly from MFH and S27, but with lots of odds and sods from other makers too.
The selection was incredible, and grouped approximately by marque. Next came the really interesting bit, a wall of decals and PE from Studio27 and all the other usual suspects. Decals and accessories are also grouped according to scale, with most of the Tameo spares and add-ons, and lots of Marlboros as well as S27 PE for both cars and bikes.
On the other side were the tools and accessories and a great selection of Tameo parts and spares. Then, the cabinet of Tameo TMK and SLK kits…a comprehensive collection, and around the corner the largest selection of BBR and MR builts that I have ever seen. On the back wall, a number of built-ups of Tameo and other 1/43s produced by their own “Romu Factory”. Next, the “Resin wall”….heaps of S27, Hiro, Iritani etc, plus some 1/12 kits (sorry Dale, but I didn’t take much notice of them!)
There were some very nice looking S27 Lotus F1 cars in 1/20. The JPS 72 really took my eye, until I saw the price: it was just over 30,000yen (about $300US), whereas most of the others are closer to 20,000. I think next time I visit I will get the S27 Super Aguri from the Melbourne GP 2007. That was the year that Takuma Sato drove well, and we were there to see it. With the team now defunct, it would be a nice keepsake. As it was, I settled for a Profil24 kit of the 1938 Le Mans Alfa Romeo 2900B in 1/24. I’ll write my thoughts on it when I have had a chance to look it over properly. Needless to say, it is a beautiful car, and it will be nice to have a larger scale version to add to my 1/43 one.
Overall it was a very cool place, but not a lot of English spoken. I wandered around for a while and took down some prices and details to double check before going back to buy the next day. Next I had an expedition on the underground rail to the central downtown area, from where I could walk to Nippombashi, or Den-den Town.
My previous visit there had been a little rushed, and this time I was again under pressure of time, having agreed to meet other crew members back at the hotel at 6pm. The more I looked along Nippombashi, the more interesting stuff I found. Shops dedicated to Gundam, those robot model things. Also the “candy toy” collections: sets of characters and small models ranging from Disney and cartoon characters to tanks and planes and sci-fi, all of which are sold in sets with packages that don’t allow you to see what you have until you open them. The idea being that you keep buying them until you have the set, and can swap your duplicates.
This is also where the huge Kids Land super stores are located. Before getting to Kids Land, I ducked into one of the other toy shops I had found on my previous visit. This one specialises in anime (cartoon) and capsule/candy toys. Like most of the shops, it is multi-story, narrow and cluttered with an escalator to go up, and a staircase to come back down. This one though has all the capsules and packets opened, and the toys on display in little plastic bags. This means you can buy the toys you are missing to complete the set, rather than taking pot-luck with buying sealed packages or capsules. Of course you pay a bit extra, but still much less than what you pay on E-Bay for some of the more desirable items.
I was really tempted by the Ferrari F1 collection. They looked about 1/87 scale or possibly 1/64 and from Lauda’s 312T to Schumacher’s last ride. Or the Lancia Rally Car collection, or the Lamborghini collection. Then there is the Star Trek collection, or Thunderbirds or Tanks of the World. If none of that floats your boat, there is always the designer chairs collection, or the miniature food collection. I could have wandered around such a shop for hours. On the 4th floor(!) of one such shop was a selection of old tin toys, many still boxed, and a bunch of old models, all shrink wrapped. I visited Yellow Submarine, a shop I noticed last trip, and internet research seemed to indicate it was a hobby shop, but it was trading cards.
My interest is the sci-fi shows of Gerry Anderson, from Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlett through to UFO and Space 1999. These shows are still very popular at a cult level in Japan, so there are regular issues of candy-toy sets. This shop also had a great collection of car related collections too (just to get back on topic!) There is the Lancia Rally collection, which has Matchbox sized resin replicas of various Stratos, Delta and 037 liveries, or the Nissan Skyline collection, or Lamborghini collection. Most of these have 6 or 7 “regulars” plus one or more special “rare items”, the idea being if you buy enough packets, you will eventually get a “rare” one.
Obviously it is easier to buy the set at this shop complete without the risk of doubling up, or just buying the ones needed to complete your collection. A really interesting set was the Ferrari F1, which was 1/43 scale snap-fit kits of Ferrari Fi cars from 1975 onwards. Except for the wheels, they looked pretty accurate. There are also aircraft (military and civil, historic and modern), space ships, Looney Tunes characters, Gundam Robots, cutesy animals, Star Trek and Star Wars, miniature furnature and strangely, miniature food. I took a photo of the inside of this shop, but it doesn’t really even start to describe what it is like to see 3 full floors of this stuff!
So, next was Kids Land. It’s a bit of a mis-nomer as it is more of a model shop than a toy shop and so aimed at slightly older “kids” perhaps. I took pics of one of the shops, and there are two of them within a couple of hundred meters, one on each side of the road. Most of the model stuff was in the first shop I got to. Being a Saturday, the streets were quite busy and they had a display and demo of little RC helicopters on the sidewalk. This store has 5 floors, the ground floor being the most “toy-ish”, with action figures, Gundams, Lego etc. Second floor was motorbike kits, ships and some sci-fi stuff. Third floor-military kits and Tamiya RC plus a big selection of parts, tools, airbrushes and more. This floor also has a Tamiya race track layout for motorised cars surrounded by glass display cabinets full of cool models. There were’t too many “racers” using the track this time which surprised me as it was Saturday, and on my previous mid-week visit, there were heaps of them. Fourth floor is the one we are interested in – cars and diecasts. About half the floor was plastic, with the rest diecasts (cars, aircraft, buses, earthmoving machinery, etc).
The Tamiya floor is good, basically Tamiya stuff only, and at least one of everything in the plastic catalog. One wall was all glass cabinets with very nice built-ups of Tamiya cars, tanks, ships and aircraft. Whilst my primary interest is cars, I have no problem spending time looking at well built models of almost anything, so I lingered around the displays for a while, even though there were no Tamiya kits that I wanted to buy. On the “robots” floor, there was a guy giving airbrush demos/lessons (part of the reason I at least walk through every floor of every store, as you never know what you might find!) Despite the location, the “teacher” was demo-ing techniques on car, aircraft and dinosaur(!) kits. There were 2 or 3 customers (adults) there watching and asking lots of questions…in fact there was more talking than painting going on.
Most of the diecast cars were 1/43, with cabinets full of Minichamps and others. Tamiya kits were at the second store, but there were plenty of Fujimi, Hasegawa and Aoshima, including the new Skyline GTRs, 250GTO and 250TR. There was a small cabinet of S27 and MFH, and an extensive range of airbrushes. I managed to get away with my purse intact, although I would have grabbed a Revell F2007 if there had been one. Stock actually seemed down a little from my previous visit, but that is purely a relative term. There were still more car kits than I have seen in any other shop in the world. Fifth floor was trains, but I didn’t do more than a cursory walk through.
The second Kids Land store is another 5 floors, but this one only really has the Tamiya floor that is of interest to car modelers. I’m not sure why they need 2 shops on the same street with basically the same content, but what do I know? Anyway, I picked up a Revell 1/24 BMW Sauber and the Hasegawa 250 TR (plus S27 PE). There were a whole bunch of really cool Mr Hobby tools, some of which I couldn’t resist: a stand for painting car bodies and parts that you can hold at arm’s length, an airbrush stand (with a magnet in the base for standing on a metal tray), a bottle with filter for spraying thinners into when cleaning your airbrush, a big size Tamiya airbrush paint bottle, some paint mixing tins, and a paintbrush holder/tray and a gold paint marker. I also couldn’t resist a couple more Aerobase Micro Wings PE aircraft kits: the Spirit of St Louis and a Boeing Model 40 mail plane. The more I see of these things the more tempted I am by them. I guess now I just have to set to and start building something!
The rest is mainly RC, anime figurines, and guns. The last two are a bit of an anomaly in a place named Kids Land. The guns floor is full of, well, guns. Along with military uniforms, SWAT type body armour and a bunch of other stuff. I’m thinking the guns were mainly replica type air guns as opposed to the genuine bullet firing article, but it was a bit strange seeing this sort of stuff in a kids store. Which brings me on to the figurines.
There are whole shops dedicated to Amine figures, and many are sort of cutsey, but many more are also borderline pornographic, to the point where certain body parts on the display models are covered with flesh coloured tape. The figures are almost exclusively female, young, and exaggeratedly well-endowed. Poses run from strong (warrior queen types) to seductive and submissive. They are available in everything from 5cm candy toy collectables, to 30cm plus statuettes either alone or in vignettes. I didn’t notice prices, but I would imagine the larger ones to be pretty expensive. Don’t know who buys them, but to each his/her own I guess!
Dinner that night was Okonomiyaki…an Osakan specialty, sort of a cross between a pancake, an omelete and a thick pizza covered with a thick soy type sauce (bit like BBQ sauce) and mayo.
Tastes better than it sounds, and is cooked at your table on a hot plate. Huge okonomiyaki, 2 beers and a couple of glasses of sake each..20 bucks per person. Local food is great and cheap (oh yeah, I think I have already mentioned that!)
Next day I was back to Romu-romu having done my research. I decided to stick with 1/43 and not to succumb to the lure of the diecast Dark Side. Senna’s 84 Monaco Toleman, Alesi’s 200th GP US Jordan EJ11, 07 Super Aguri (nearly bought the S27 1/20 Australian GP version) and the 1950 Le Mans Yellow Ferrari 166 (woman driver and my favourite car colour!) Similar car in 1951, but the 1950 had number 27…very Ferrari significant.
The last 2 weren’t in the cabinet, so looked like they were out of stock, but a very nice lady (only 2 women staff on that day) found a new box of stuff including the 2 kits I wanted. I also picked up a couple of S27 PE detail sets and 2 nice little packs of embossed type Ferrari badges and logos. They were very nice (and spoke better English than I did Japanese) I’ll definitely be back. I don’t think the prices of the Tameos were especially cheap, but I had yen to spend courtesy of our expenses allowances.
My shopping complete, I headed back for the hotel, but on the way stopped off for lunch and a visit to the 100 yen shop. Lunch was more okonomi-yaki, my favourite Japanese cuisine. Goes good with beer, but as I was flying that evening I had to stick with water and juice.
100 yen shops are great: everything is 100 yen or about $1, and the range of items is amazing. I picked up some Mickey Mouse stuff: plastic tray, plates, drink bottle and bag, for my neice who is Mickey Mad, and some nick-nacks for myself, including a nice steel rule and a small cutting mat. Perfect for my Aerobase PE models! Having learned from previous trips, I had taken my BIG suitcase, so everything fit with no problems (except my packets of wasabi flavoured potato crisps: yummy, believe me, which I kept separate so they didn’t all get crushed up).
I highly recommend Osaka, and if the GPMA tour ever happens, I’ll be a starter for sure. If you do end up there, a bit of research beforehand will work wonders. Without Kaz’s help, I wouldn’t have known Romu-romu was even there, let alone how to find it! I’m sure I could go to Osaka 100 times and still discover something new every time. The number of little shops is incredible, and that is just at street level. Many buildings have tiny shops on every one of their 5 or 6 or 7 floors.
The city is clean and safe, although somewhat chaotic in places, and the people seem to take amazing pride in everything they do. Generally it is the people who make or break a visit to a foreign country, and everyone I met in Japan was fantastic.
Cheers for now,