Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Japan: Day Twelve

Rained even harder today and it only started after I left, which means I didn't think to bring my FREE UMBRELLA. Oh well. It wasn't so much the getting wet that bothered me, it was the prospect of someone else handing me an umbrella and then I'd have all these umbrellas I wouldn't know what to do with. Or, and this would be the worst, what if I ran into the SAME WOMAN that gave me the umbrella yesterday and I wouldn't have my umbrella?? What then? It'd be SO AWKWARD.

I was also wearing one of my Touhou shirts today and I started getting really paranoid that someone would come up and talk to me about it. I should explain here my level of skill with Japanese. It's terrible. Well, it's worse than anyone who took like a week's worth of actual education in it. Basically I can sort of understand what people are talking about in some cases if I recognize a few words, and I can read some things if I can recognize stuff, but I'm not really confident in either. And forget about speaking, I get way too paranoid and self-conscious about pronunciation etc. So yeah if some other Touhou fan started asking me about the shirt I'd probably make a fool out of myself. Luckily most people, including the staff, in the sort of stores I was going to are usually absorbed pretty completely in looking through stuff. The reaction I most often get is people who suddenly notice I'm there and suddenly notice I am not a Japanese person by any stretch and betray a slight and sudden surprise. I started to wonder if maybe like people have been talking about The Great White Otaku who has been roaming from shop to shop, writing down prices of things and looking up names of manga. Maybe they're making threads on 2channel about me. Maybe they're conspiring to buy me some gift based on what they've seen me looking at. Not sure why I chose to share this outlandish fantasy but I dunno, I have no idea what sort of interstore community there is.

Oh yeah so today I spent a good amount of time in probably the coolest shop on Earth. It's called "Kid's Land", and it's like six floors of hobbies that no one but the richest kid could afford. Only on the bottom floor is the name accurate, there they sell like dollhouses, stuffed animals, Hello Kitty et al, Pokemon, etc, etc. Beyond that it's all tiny models with extreme detail and price. The floors are roughly divided by the company that produces it, so there's a lot of overlap between floors and such, but I'll talk about them in terms of subject matter:

There's a lot of pretty cool stuff here. The parts and such are organized the way you see them for actual cars. The selection seems split between model kits that provide a very accurate but static car and customizable RC kits where you build an RC car from the ground up. They even have a little race course for them.

I have to point out this subsection because it was odd how it was divided up between ones that came with a guy riding them and ones that didn't. I saw a lot of display cases where they'd have a random anime figurine riding the motorcycle. I guess they know where their markets overlap.

There seems to be a trend in Japan to make something really illegal and actually well controlled and then to make a legal approximation easily accessible. Contrast this with the North America way of making something illegal but not really regulating it well and often cracking down on all approximations with the same sort of lax restriction. Guns aren't illegal in North America, granted, but they are regulated, and more relevantly, any fake guns have to look nothing like guns. In Japan, guns are way illegal, very difficult to get, but they have these model airsoft guns that look scary close. Like actually scary close. Walking down this aisle sometimes makes me shiver.

On the other hand, this stuff gives me a really mixed emotion that somehow manages to seem quite heartwarming? Basically these are a lot of little dioramas of war scenes, usually WWII. What strikes me is that most, if not all, of the scenes show the troops out of actual combat. Most of them are the tanks rolling out to some places with soldiers riding casually on it, people setting up artillery, repairing and fueling up planes... preparation stuff. I think the people who collect this stuff aren't really so interested in fighting or anything, they just like the idea of the equipment and the organization and the formations. What I really love are the hand-drawn illustrations of the scene on the front of the kit's box. Again, usually stuff at rest, or at least not engaged in battle. I don't like the idea of glorifying war, but I do think that there's ways to present it that really let a lot of the unique experiences and aesthetics of it shine more than they do when you view it from the solemn and historic perspective it undoubtedly deserves. Usually you see this in movies and stories that show the "human" side of war, specifically the ones that highlight the camaraderie and downtime lifestyle of the soldiers. These war models do the opposite, they show the big picture, quite literally. Most of the stuff is at a really high scale, like 1:32+, and the big dioramas show just how impressive an army formation can look. It reminds me a bit or Warhammer, hopefully that isn't offensive. I feel like the people who collect this aren't trivializing war or making light of it, they're trying to recreate it in such a way that really reveals the scale of it all. There's a real solemness to it still.

Animal stuff
So they have a bunch of animal figures and dinosaur figures and such and maybe this store just doesn't specialize in it or whatever but... I think I had a better collection of these things than this store. Honestly! Granted I had just about as good a dinosaur figure collection as any kid could have, but I dunno, sort of disappointing. One thing that was cool though is that they made more of an effort to actually make things to scale, which is neat. North American manufacturers seem to focus on making all the figures around the same size.

This stuff is mostly on this one floor where they play love songs from the sixties. I really can't describe the aesthetic here, just that it was quite wonderful. They have all these big cases with the planes hanging from the top next to a long list of specifications. A lot of these were military planes, so there was a bit of an overlap with the war stuff, but the scale is usually larger for the planes and there seems to be more of a focus on the interior workings of the plane. Most of them had removable engine compartments and what have you. The planes also contained the most expensive models by some wide margin; a few of the WWII-area model planes at like 1:8 or something crazy (they were about three feet across, too lazy to figure out the math) were 2500000 yen. That is not a typo. That's about $30000. Wow.

The top floor is all trains. I cannot tell you how great this train section is. I know these stores do exist in North America, like, train specialty stores, but I dunno, it's just so different when you climb through all these other hobbies to reach the ultimate one. I don't think I can possibly overstate how many trains and train accessories there were here. Oh, and a whole wall of train magazines, about 50/50 between magazines about model trains and ones about real ones. And train DVDs! Oh man oh man! A long time ago on a hard drive that I unfortunately lost I pirated hi-def footage of a train ride through Europe. It was like 40GB of train action. I figured it was some weird one-of thing, but here there's multiple series of videos all just of train rides through various areas, many in Bluray. Insane! Also pretty expensive. Gonna probably look into pirating these. Anyways yeah trains. I feel like there's something to be said about the difference between guys with big war dioramas and guys with big train dioramas but I dunno too tired and this post is plenty long already.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Ok.. don't get this. I could comment before without setting up an account but oh well. Trying this comment again...
Sounds like an amazing store. Hope you bought me something from the first floor (hint hint).

p.s. This should be Day Thirteen unless you're being suspicious or something...