This weekend was the last weekend of winter break, so we decided to make the most of it by making pilgrimage to one of the coolest, nerdiest things going in Japan. We went to see the “life-size” Gundam.
What is Gundam, you may ask? If you’re here at this blog, you probably have some interest in Japan, so you probably have heard of Gundam. It’s fairly pervasive in Japan, and some of my friends have likened it to a Japanese Star Trek–almost every American is at least vaguely familiar with Kirk and Spock, and in Japan, so it is with Gundam. A little space, a little war, and a whole lot ultra-powered fighting robots (with human pilots) make Gundam irresistible to people all over Japan, and the world!
Starting with the first animation series in 1979, it’s developed into a billion yen industry, (with billions of dollars on top of that,) comprised of extensive animations, tons of merchandise including elaborate models, all the way to official postage stamps at your local post office.
The Japan Self Defense forces have used Gundam as a code name for their advanced personal combat equipment, and the Japanese Fire Fighters have used Gundam on their posters.
So when Bandai announced a 1:1 scale model was to be built in Tokyo last summer, people were pretty excited. It’s “actual size”, if this elaborate universe were to actually coexist with our own. Some 4 million people went to visit Odaiba in search of the Giant Gundam, and they weren’t disappointed.
After Odaiba it was moved to Shizuoka, about 3 hours east of Tokyo. Shizuoka is the home of the production factory for the plastic models which are so popular, so the Gundam must have felt right at home.
When we heard that it was scheduled to come down on January 11th, we knew we should make the trek out to see it. 6 hours on the train later, we were there.
Every half hour dramatic music played as he lit up and his head moved from side to side. Steam billowed out, and it seemed like he might just jet off into the sky. The only disappointment was that the beam saber, his enormous weapon added specifically for the Shizuoka display, did not light up as the internets had projected when the addition of said beam saber was announced.
There was a really impressive cosplayer out, just a dude with his own home-made mech posing while the enormous one looked on. Children (um, and some adults) eagerly took their picture with him, looking tiny while big brother loomed in the background.
There was a hobby fair and park set up around the statue, and there was a guy whose job it was to spray water on the gravel to keep the dust down. But instead of just spraying, he painted elaborate character studies from the series, which quickly faded. Ephemeral, beautiful, and supremely nerdy. What a cool job!
There was, unsurprisingly, lots of merchandise available. We didn’t want to wait in the epic line for the gift shop, but our friends picked up a model and these lovely Omiyage–Gundam cookies to bring back to your friends and coworkers! I probably should have picked some up for work!
There was also a Gundam cafe with lots of themed treats to fill your tummy. This helpful fellow was waiting at the end of the area where you can touch the Gundam to direct you to where you can give them your money. The Gundam itself was free to see, but not surprisingly there were lots of little things to spend money on–food, snacks, toys, etc. Of course, if you missed the display you can always go to the main branch of the Gundam Cafe in Akihabara, which I’m sure we’ll be covering at some point!
So, was it worth a 6 hour train ride each way? In a word: yes. I’m not the biggest Gundam fan, and the whole genre is really not my thing. I don’t generally care for robots or battle or plastic models of anything. But a 18 meter mech towering over the populace? It was really, really cool. It was seriously impressive, and the pictures just don’t do it justice.
What do you think, internets? Would you want to see the giant Gundam? How far would you travel to see it?
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