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Shizuoka, plastic model capital of Japan, promotes local industry with “model city” campaign

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A mailbox that resembles a plastic model kit is seen in Aoi Ward, Shizuoka, on Sept. 23.

Shizuoka has launched a campaign to promote itself as a “model city,” in an effort to use its plastic toy model manufacturing industry for regional revitalization. The city plans to organize art installations and classes at schools to raise awareness of plastic models as a pastime that has found a resurgence in popularity amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A unique mailbox sits in front of the city hall in Shizuoka’s Aoi Ward. It looks like a sheet of unassembled model kit parts, but is a functioning mailbox that can actually be used to post mail.

“This is a great way to promote the city,” said a 50-year-old company employee who lives in the city.

The city installed the plastic-model-themed mailbox and signboards at four locations in March, with the aim of encouraging residents to post pictures on social media and generate nationwide buzz.

The city also started inviting manufacturers to teach students at elementary schools about the history of the industry and give a hands-on experience of making plastic models themselves this fiscal year.

“We want to foster pride and attachment to the city,” said an official with the city’s Industrial Promotion Division.

Shizuoka Prefecture itself accounts for over 90% of the nation’s plastic model production, and it is said that 60% of related companies in the prefecture have their production bases in Shizuoka City.

But diversifying entertainment options have taken a toll on the once-booming industry. In 2019, shipments from the prefecture totaled ¥22.258 billion, down about 40% from the peak of ¥36.4 billion in 1989.

This downward trend has been partly abated by the pandemic, thanks to a rekindled interest in plastic models with hobbyists spending more time at home.

“Sales have been rising since last year,” said an official at Tamiya Inc., a major manufacturer in the city. “At one point, we couldn’t even keep up with demand.”

Sales of related products, such as tools and paints, have also increased.

Masayuki Haga, a professor of art education at Shizuoka University, said the woodworking industry developed in Shizuoka during the Edo period, when the shogunate gathered skilled craftsmen to build shrines.

Before World War II, wooden model airplanes were produced for use as teaching materials in schools across the country, which evolved into plastic models.

“Shizuoka’s plastic model industry is world-class,” said Mr. Kazutaka Miyajima, a 60-year-old supporter of the city’s initiative at the Shizuoka model teaching materials cooperative in the city. “This [initiative] is a great opportunity to promote [local industry] to the whole country. I hope to work together with the city to drive interest.