SHIZUOKA — Shunsaku Tamiya’s great passion is trying to coax today’s high-tech savvy kids into embracing the low-tech world of scale models.

“Nowadays, kids have so many other interesting things to hold their attention, and they don’t enjoy making scale models,” said the 67-year-old president of scale model manufacturer Tamiya Inc.

Having grown up in the poverty-stricken war days, when children were entertained by the simple joys of handcraft, he has good reasons to be nostalgic. Yet, merely reflecting on yesteryear is not his style. “It’s no use lamenting, we have to adapt to the changes of the times to survive,” he said.

When Tamiya joined the firm, which was founded by his father in 1958, it was a small family operation barely surviving on the production of wooden models and rapidly being overshadowed by more versatile plastic models.

Shifting to the use of new materials was a big risk for the firm, but resulted in its transformation into one of the world’s most revered scale model manufacturers whose products enjoy an almost legendary reputation among scale model buffs.

Tamiya, who drew many of the blueprints for the firm’s early products, said his company differs from others in its unrivaled determination to make its models true to the original, from the tiny rivets of military tanks to the undercarriage design of a sedan.

“Some scale model manufacturers use the same plastic pattern of the bottom for both Nissan and Toyota cars,” he said. “It never happens in real cars.” He explained that the company pays attention to these minute details “because the fun of scale modeling is that you can flip the car over and see the bottom. It’s something you cannot do with the real thing.”

Tamiya attributed the firm’s almost obsessive drive for perfection to the love of scale models and craftsmanship he shares with his staff. The model master, whose career spans nearly 50 years, said he has always sought to produce “scale models that will be good even 20 years later, ones that will survive long after I pass away.”

One such product is the 1/32 Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero Fighter. Released in December, the model features a motorized propeller and synchronized engine sound whose pitch alters in accordance with blade rotation, mirroring the real thing.

In order to record the original sounds, the staff flew to the Air Museum Planes of Fame in Chino, Calif., where they recorded the sound of the only remaining operational zero fighter in every flight phase.

Despite the company’s stellar status as a producer of sophisticated scale models, however, Tamiya considers it too risky to be content with the prestige the firm enjoys among “scale model maniacs.” Instead, the company has been exploring ways to broaden its fan base.

To this end, it now produces snap-action mini four-wheel drive vehicles powered by battery motors, aimed at introducing kindergarten and elementary school children to the world of handcraft.

As an avid scale model fan since childhood, however, Tamiya admitted he often found it sad, if not demeaning, to think how far the company has had to go to appeal to the children of today. “They find reading instruction manuals too troublesome, and we have to make the manuals a lot simpler and visually-oriented,” he said.

“When I was writing manuals in my 20s, I went so far as to intentionally use difficult words, because children back then found them cool, feeling as if they were part of a grown-up world.”

Yet, even in survival mode, Tamiya said his company retains its traditional passion for scale models. “Although today’s children do not touch troublesome stuff, we still try to infuse some assembly process in the models.”

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