Plastic Models as Art: Touring Kaiyodo’s Headquarters and Hobby Land Museum

When Kaiyodo founder Osamu Miyawaki submitted a painted Revell model of the Constitution ship to a city art exhibit in 1970, the judges disqualified his work when they found out it was a painted plastic model. Undeterred, he told the organizers, “Just as you need a cloth canvas to paint a picture, the assembled plastic kit is a form of canvas. This red bronze coloring is suitable for the title of Shura (Battle) and is a piece I achieved using all the techniques I had!” With that, he persuaded the organizers to overturn their decision, allowing his painted model to enter the exhibit.

The model ship in question in a case
Photo by Matt Hodgkins

This idea of Art-Pla — the artification of plastic models — remains a driving force in figure and model maker Kaiyodo today. Osamu Miyawaki’s son Shūichi Miyawaki (known as “Senmu”) now serves as the company’s Senior Managing Director, and he is proud of the artistic accomplishments of his company. During a recent tour ANN took of the company’s headquarters, Senmu boasted that Kaiyodo has received awards from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, has collaborated with Takashi Murakami, and has had its works displayed at the Palace of Versailles and the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris. He believes that what sets Kaiyodo apart is that while the company has made a lot of products that are seen as art, the products’ prices are low and the staff are very particular about their products.

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Senmu talking about Kaiyodo’s accomplishments
Photo by Matt Hodgkins

Kaiyodo’s 60th anniversary is this year, and Senmu says the company has always focused on the slogan his father launched the company with, to spread the joy of making plastic models to everyone.

Today, Kaiyodo is known not just for its model kits and figures of dinosaurs and other creatures, but also for its REVOLTECH line of moveable figures that includes robots and anime characters, its capsule toy figures, Evangelion figures, and its ARTPLA line.

Kaiyodo as a company almost didn’t happen. When Osamu Miyawaki was 36 in 1964, he needed to find steady employment as his son Shūichi was about to start elementary school. He had worked more than 30 jobs until that point, but he was torn between opening an udon shop or starting a small business for plastic models. So he decided to leave it to fate. He tied the wooden sword he used for exercise to the ceiling, then cut the string and let it fall. If the sword pointed east or west, he would open an udon shop. And if it pointed north or south, he would open a plastic model shop. And so Kaiyodo opened in Moriguchi City in Osaka in 1964 (and the famed sword currently hangs in front of the entrance to the Kaiyodo Hobby Land museum).

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That first store was only 3 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep. Miyawaki went to wholesalers every day to purchase goods. He installed a display window for finished models, and more than half of the store was taken up with a pool that visitors could use for submerging submarine models. He built a diorama in a corner of the store installed with firecrackers where customers could run model tanks, and even set up a slot racing course.

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Image via Kaiyodo Hobby Land’s website

He later opened a “play school” in 1977 named Hobby Museum to oppose the tutoring schools that were booming at the time. He also rented out a warehouse and added a 180-meter slot racing course, a diorama area, an exhibition area, and a crafting area. One of Kaiyodo‘s most famous sculptors, BOME, then in high school, became part of a group known as “Zokei-Kyo” along with Senmu, and began experimenting with materials such as resin to create what they wanted. They then brought those creations to exhibit at Hobby Museum.

In 1999, the company worked with sweets maker Furuta to launch a line of chocolate eggs titled Choco Egg (similar to Kinder Eggs in the UK) that featured miniature animal figures inside. They sold 130 million chocolate eggs in the span of three years.

Today, Osamu Miyawaki is in his mid-90s; Senmu tells us he plans to soon move back to his hometown of Kochi Prefecture. In a message on the website for Kaiyodo Hobby Land, he writes about how more than 50 years ago he would boast that his tiny shop would become a huge hobby land one day:

For more than 50 years, we, as father and son, have been collecting hobby-related items in addition to plastic models, and we believed it was time to stimulate the curiosity and creativity of all children through wonder. But before I knew it, I had been 93 years old.
Does my dream come true after all these years? I’m not sure, but with the help of so many people, we have built this Hobby Land.
Feel free to laugh at this 93-year-old man who spent his whole life making this bragging into a reality.

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The Kaiyodo Hobby Land museum opened in 2021 and is located walking distance away from the company’s headquarters in Kadoma-shi, Osaka. It’s located on the third floor of a shopping complex, and takes up the entire floor. A flyer for the place features the tagline: “Come Together! Children of today! Children of the past!,” and it certainly lives up to that. The place is a treasure trove of figure, model, and garage kit history, featuring thousands of figures.

I cannot understate this. The museum features thousands upon thousands of figures and models.

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No, really. The below video is just the figures in cases outside of the museum.


The museum also has an area highlighting the friendship between Miyawaki and special effects artist and director Chris Walas (Gremlins, The Fly, The Fly II). The two held the world’s first movable full-scale dinosaur exhibition in 1993. The museum features life-sized replicas of heads of Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, as well as items from the Gremlins film.

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Kaiyodo Hobby Land also features displays of some of the weird stuff Miyawaki has collected over the last 60 years, early figures from the company as it transitioned from a shop to a figure maker, and a collection of miniatures collected by late actor Eiichi Imashimizu.

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There’s a lot of kappa-related figures and models on display
Photo by Matt Hodgkins
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Early figures from Kaiyodo
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Miniature masks
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Miniature armor sets
Photo by Matt Hodgkins

There is also a large area dedicated to highlighting specific sculptors, including Kuniaki Teraoka, Akira Tani, Nobuchika Ohtsu, Yuko Shimizu, Goro Furuta, Tetsuya Umeda, Kinoshita Takashi, Takuma Katsuo, Katsuhisa Yamaguchi, BOME, and more, with representative works from each sculptor on display.

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The museum hosts daily figure painting experiences, which takes about an hour and no reservation is necessary as long as there’s space. Those interested can paint figures of dinosaurs or other living creatures. Ours had us painting a classic cat figure riding on a sword.

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The museum has capsule machines throughout and everyone who goes gets a free coin to use on their gacha machine of choice. The museum also has revolving temporary exhibits: when we went the temporary exhibit focused on Daicon Film.

Kaiyodo also runs the Kaiyodo Figure Museum Kurokabe Ryuyukan in Nagahama, Shiga prefecture; and both the Kaiyodo Hobby Museum and Kaiyodo Kappa Museum in Shimanto-cho, Kochi Prefecture.

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Senmu greeting us at the entrance to Kaiyodo headquarters
Photo by Matt Hodgkins

Touring the Kaiyodo heaquarters, it is immediately obvious how much everyone loves what they do. Especially Senmu. After being greeted by the very real “maneki neko” (lucky cat) in the foyer, the very first place we toured was the warehouse, where, amidst walls and walls of boxes of figures, there was a full-size 88mm Flak anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun that Senmu casually mentions he bought from Hayao Miyazaki at auction, with a box of a Tamiya model kit of the exact same thing sitting right next to it.

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The lucky cat in the foyer of Kaiyodo HQ
Photo by Crystalyn Hodgkins
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I mean, imagine if this is where you held your work meetings (how do they get any work done?):

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The headquarters includes areas for design, sculpting, and painting, and in each area employees were hard at work with crowded and seemingly messy workspaces. All of them were happy to show us what they were working on and were excited to talk. It was a relaxed and casual atmosphere with everyone’s craftsmanship on display.

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That’s BOME in the black-and-white striped jacket
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3D printing area
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And of course there’s cases and cases (and cases) of figures and models throughout the whole building.

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Photo by Matt Hodgkins

Kaiyodo and seesaw are partnering with the city of Kadoma on a new guest house located close to the headquarters and to Hobby Land called “Ota House.” The guest house was under construction during our visit, but opened in late January.

Ota House features two guest rooms and a shared space with a kitchen. The guest house has a casual decor with a theme of “a friend’s house that is filled with things you like,” and of course includes figures, toys, books, and tools needed to paint figures so those who stay there can also have their own figure painting experience. The guesthouse’s website states it’s a place that’s a gateway to love and otaku.

Kaiyodo‘s preeminent sculptor and paint master of biological figures, Gorō Furuta, is supervising the figure exhibits that are on display at the guest house.

Reservations are made through AirBnB and are available through the house’s website. Those interested can also check out Ota House on Instagram.

Kaiyodo also started operating public tours in December, including visiting Kaiyodo Hobby Land and other Kaiyodo-related museums.

If you have any love for plastic figures or models, and you ever find yourself in Osaka with a free day, Kaiyodo Hobby Land is an excellent way to spend the time, immersed in nostalgia and the awe of how beautiful this artistic medium can be.

Thanks to the Anime Tourism Association for their assistance with this article.