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Wednesday August 28, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday August 28, 2013 MYT 7:01:14 AM
by tatsuji watanabe
Shuichi Miyawaki holds Taro Okamoto’s Tower Of The Sun, with eyes designed to sparkle. – The Yomiuri Shimbun photos
By gathering fans as employees, a passionate businessman has taken his company global.
MUMMIES and sphinxes from the British Museum, creatures of the jungle and the sea, anime characters, the avant-garde works of artist Taro Okamoto ... all these items and more have appeared in the form of models produced by Kaiyodo Co, which enchants the public with elaborate, dynamic creations that may include warm touches.
Based in Kadoma in Osako, Japan, the company earns about ¥2.3bil (RM77mil) a year mainly by manufacturing these products, popularly known as “figures”.
“Our company started as a small plastic model shop for maniacs,” says Kaiyodo president Shuichi Miyawaki, 56. “Fortunately, I have many charming workers. All of us, including me, have been die-hard otaku (fan) for years.”
Otaku, the Japanese word for fan used to be part of an underground argot but now it is commonly used worldwide. Miyawaki plays a leading role in Japan’s otaku culture with his playful spirit and passion.
Kaiyodo, which started as a tiny 5sqm shop, now has 41 employees. It began manufacturing original products in 1982. It has produced about 10,000 types of figures.
Figures are manufactured by workers called moulding designers. They draw rough sketches and make original moulds by shaping synthetic resin and other materials using various tools. These original moulds are used to make metal moulds for mass production.
Miyawaki says the secret of bringing his moulding designers’ talent to its peak is his work policy of giving them maximum freedom. No employee training. No detailed instructions.
Once he puts his trust in them, he keeps tracking their work with perseverance and optimism that their talent will blossom.
Among Kaiyodo’s stable of creators is Shinobu Matsumura, 51, a leading designer of animal and insect figures. He made his first mega hit in 1999, his 13th year with Kaiyodo.
According to Miyawaki, Matsumura is so fascinated by animals that he studies their ecology and skeletal structure and even visits their habitats on islands in the Pacific Ocean. After being involved in environmental conservation activities and working as an illustrator for reference books, Matsumura one day visited Kaiyodo with some figures he had made by hand.
Miyawaki says, at the time, he had not felt any energy or warmth in animal figures manufactured overseas. “When I saw Mr Matsumura’s works, I thought he could make figures 100 times as good as those made overseas,” he says. “The facial expressions, appearances and postures of his figures – only his superhuman sensibility could make their production possible ... this idea suddenly flashed in my mind at the time.”
Matsumura was assigned to make a series of animal figures, such as a Japanese monkey and an Okinawa rail, for use as free gifts attached to chocolate candies of a confectionery company. The product sold 130 million packs over a period of three years.
Bome, 51, another Kaiyodo designer, was employed in 1984. The artist, who goes by a single name, was neither a good painter nor clever with his hands, but Miyawaki liked his earnest, unaffected character. When Bome was a primary school student, he often came to Kaiyodo, wearing glasses and a cowboy hat.
“He was so earnest about manufacturing figures of lovely girls that he did not go out or date anyone. He gave up all earthly desires,” Miyawaki says. “Due to his devotion to work and training by working with other moulding designers, he reached the stage of an artist.”
As a result, Bome earned the title “King of Otaku” and is now famous abroad, too.
Kaiyodo has also a specialist in making figures of tanks and mechanical objects. Another designer created figures with movable joints, a breakthrough innovation in the 1990s.
Now, Kaiyodo has 10 in-house designers and another 10 freelancers. Once they are absorbed in creating products, they often forget about delivery dates and even manufacturing costs.
Miyawaki says, “I sometimes scold them: ‘You’ve made such an elaborate piece. How can we produce them for ¥300 (RM10) each?’” But he quickly adds that he never forgets to have their names inscribed on their products to make them proud of their work.
“Expressing our ‘passion to create’ in concrete form and making efforts to deliver it to people – the power of this workplace full of such enthusiasm is enough in itself to train people,” Miyawaki says.
Miyawaki was born in Moriguchi, Osaka Prefecture. He became familiar with plastic models at a plastic model shop opened by his father Osamu, now 85, in the city in 1964. When Miyawaki was young, he was taken by his father to business partners for management training and became the shop manager when he was a middle school student. After graduating from middle school, he took over the business from his father. After the business incorporated, Miyawaki became executive managing director in 1985, and president in 2005.
When he was in his teens and 20s, Miyawaki assembled plastic models until late at night with young people who came to his shop and he had them stay over at his home. Those emotional days, like a students’ training camp, are the origins of his career.
Miyawaki has collected 38,000 plastic models – so far – which he suspects is a world record.
“It’s all right for me if the company doesn’t exist a century from now,” Miyawaki says. “I’ll be just happy if it’s recorded in history that a great company named Kaiyodo once existed in Osaka, Japan.”
Kaiyodo’s figures are highly acclaimed not only in Japan but also globally. Since 2003, the company has manufactured goods for the British Museum. It aims to manufacture figures for museums around the world, Miyawaki says.
At an exhibition featuring artist Taro Okamoto held in Tokyo in 2011, 70,000 art figures manufactured by the company were sold. The number was 1.4 times that of the visitors to the exhibition.
Realistic figures of animals at the Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, and of sea life at Kyoto Aquarium in Kyoto also sell well.
Meanwhile, about 180,000 people have visited the Kaiyodo Hobby Museum Shimanto, which opened in July 2011 in Shimanto, Kochi Prefecture, which is near the hometown of Miyawaki’s father.
Shikoku Railway Co (JR Shikoku) operates a Kaiyodo Hobby Train between Kubokawa Station in Kochi Prefecture and Uwajima Station in Ehime Prefecture on the JR Yodo Line. The train displays about 200 Kaiyodo figures and bears images such as dinosaurs on its exterior. – The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network
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Lifestyle, Lifestyle, figures, otaku, Kaiyodo president, plastic models, Japan
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