Life in plastic, it's fantastic
BUILDING plastic models of robots, vehicles and weapons is no longer a hobby just for boys. Today, more women can be counted among the ranks of model enthusiasts.
Unlike their male counterparts, many have devised original approaches - such as putting cute decorative touches on their creations and assembling components in unconventional ways - that exhibit their free-thinking tendencies and delight in veering off the beaten path. Some female hobbyists have even formed groups.
The Shizuoka Hobby Show 2015, one of world's largest model-related exhibitions, was held in Shizuoka last month.
There, visitors were dazzled by the sight of displays featuring a flower-embellished military tank and a round weapon from the popular anime series Mobile Suit Gundam painted to resemble earth.
These creations were the work of a group of model-loving women known as Mokejo. The group - whose name is a portmanteau of the Japanese words "mokei" (models) and "joshi" (women) - are known for their unique and somewhat unconventional style.
Mokejo was formed by 49-year-old professional model-maker Yuka Ogino and four of her friends in 2009. It now boasts 30 members.
Manga artist Rio Kozuki, a member of the group, displayed her creations at the exhibition. "At work, I usually draw manga on my computer," she explained. "So using my hands to build plastic models is a refreshing break from that."
Women become captivated by plastic models and drawn into that world for an assortment of reasons.
Some are influenced by men close to them who are already connoisseurs, such as their brothers or husbands. Others become obsessed with a certain anime character or a particular model at first sight. Some enjoy posting photos of their work-in-progress or completed creations on Facebook and other social media.
According to Ms Ogino, men tend to make their models replicate reality of the anime. If the model is of an anime character, for instance, the maker tries his best not to tarnish the image of the original.
However, women often have a different approach. "They tend to be sensitive to how cute the final product should look, and they think more flexibly," she said. "They might use their make-up brushes to paint the model, or even a nail file to hone the surface."
For the past three years, 26-year-old Kino Kosaka from Nagoya has been active as "an idol singer who promotes the fun of making models". She promotes model-making on stage during her musical performances and gives workshops to get more people interested in taking up the hobby.
Kosaka started making models four years ago, after being inspired by male colleagues in the music industry. She soon realised that assembling small parts into a larger object could be a lot of fun.
She said her passion is in making "something that fascinates people", rather than "completing something well-made".
Her plastic model of a robotic weapon from Gundam, which is designed to look like pudding a la mode, is proof of exactly that. It garnered praise in a model-making contest and was featured in a magazine.
Some model-related events are held exclusively for women. The Mokei Factory, a model shop in Shinjuku ward, Tokyo, hosts a women-only gathering known as Plastic Model Party.
At the event, led by artist and professional model-maker Tomoe Ogoshi, participants bring their work for a show-and-tell in a casual setting and acquire professional skills through hands-on training. The party, which takes place about once a month, has been going on for about four years.
Ms Ogino said that in the stressful digital age, handicrafts such as building models can be an effective way to clear one's mind and relax.
"Plastic models can easily be modified, and they can serve as a great creative outlet," she explained. "Women really ought to check it out."
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK