Osamu Miyawaki

Osamu Miyawaki 80, is the founder of Kaiyodo, a world-famous maker of collectable figures and tiny statues that are the epitome of Japanese monozukuri (“making things,” signifying superb manufacturing). Kaiyodo’s super-deformed characters, many from manga and anime, are easily recognizable for their exaggerated features, vivid colors and incredibly accurate details. Miyawaki raised the level of omake, the tiny giveaway toys that come with sweets and soft drinks, from things that few kids ever wanted to high-quality works of art that adults collect. He was also the first to credit his artists, making them stars in their own genre: Shinobu Matsumura is famous for animals, Kazunari Araki for dinosaurs, Katsuhisa Yamaguchi for his Revoltech series of robots and Bome for his sexy figurines, including the one that he did for the artist Takashi Murakami, “Miss Ko².”

Instead of fighting, change your business style. In 1964, I had a small hobby shop where I sold plastic airplane model kits for kids. In the afternoon the place was full of children. At that time, Japan had at least 10,000 such hobby shops, but mothers would come in and yell at the kids for not going to juku (cram schools). They were mad at me, too, because they felt I stole their kids. I struggled for two or three years, when I finally realized that I should switch from children to adults.

A man must be honest with his wife. We’ve been married for 50 years and we have an open marriage. At least, it’s open on my side. I tell my wife if I am going on a date, and she gives me the money for my escapades because she is in charge of all our finances. I never lie to her. She knows what kind of women I date, and many of my lovers become good friends with her. My wife is my best friend, my mom, my love, my goddess. She is 81 and looks a good 20 years younger — she’s just a fabulous, kind, smart, elegant woman. We never argue, ’cause we’re so happy together. She is always at the company, running it while I am out chasing dreams and skirts. She is never jealous. We have conversations and express our love for each other every day. That is very important. She knows that I love her the most and that I bring home to her the energy I get from younger women.

If you do not like how things are going, take action. Now elderly people are called kouki koureisha, meaning on the backside of the 75-year-old divide. This expression has a negative connotation, as if telling us elderly to die quickly because we are in the way. I say we elderly people should institute a Heisei Restoration, like the one during the Meiji Era. But unlike in the Meiji Restoration, when young Japanese such as the visionay Sakamoto Ryoma fixed Japan, in today’s Heisei Era, young people do nothing. So we must!

Anyone who is willing to work and embraces challenges is capable of improving. We have 40 artists, and they are all average people. But since they try hard, they are always capable of surpassing their best work.

War is terrible, and so is its aftermath. When I was 15, I worked on the Manchuria Railroad in China during World War II. Once the war ended in China, the Soviet Communists invaded and killed many Japanese. I survived, but it then took me a year to return to Japan. When I finally made it back and the war was over, things were awful back here, too.

Study what you want, when you want to. Unless parents push their children, no kid wants to go to school. That’s OK. When my son graduated from middle school, he said he had had enough education. I agreed, and to celebrate, we cycled around Shikoku for a month. Once we came home, he began working at our company.

For me, happiness is being able to work till I die. Many elderly feel the same, but there are few jobs for us. The Japanese government thinks that asking the elderly to work is cruel, but really it isn’t. Japanese people love working, and it is our custom to keep busy till death because it shows that you are healthy and still needed by society.

No job is ever as easy as it looks. I always loved fishing, so I became a fisherman when I returned to Japan after the war, chasing after katsuo (tuna) from Kagoshima to Hokkaido. I soon realized how weak I had became in Manchuria. The other fishermen’s physique was so much better than mine so I had to work very hard to keep up with them. I only lasted three years.

If we started thinking of the bottom line, we would not produce anything of high quality. Monozukuri means making something that’s better than the last thing you made, but this idea is not compatible with profit making.

Staying healthy is your most important task. My grandma died at age 100, mom at 96 … my dad? Forty-three — but he was an alcoholic.

My dream project is to give us elderly people a place to gather and work on projects with young people. In Kochi Prefecture, in the beautiful Shimanto area — my father’s hometown — I am making a park and turning a school into the largest Kaiyodo figure museum. I hope that both elderly people and otaku (obsessive fans) will come to enjoy nature and make art. We will have the biggest kappa (mythical creatures living in ponds and rivers) collection in the river. It’ll be great!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at:

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