The sculpted figures that advertise restaurants and other businesses in the bustling Dotombori shopping and entertainment district in central Osaka are a magnet for tourists.

Among these so-called “3-D ads” are a green dragon above a ramen shop, a huge hand holding a piece of tuna sushi to attract customers to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, and giant “gyoza” dumplings luring trade for a Chinese restaurant.

These and many others are the work of Masahide Nakamura, 65, president of Pop Kougei Co.

“I feel so excited when I see foreign tourists stop to take photographs of those billboards,” Nakamura said in an interview.

Pop Kougei, based in the city of Yao, Osaka Prefecture, has produced more than 300 3-D ads and displays, including a life-size dinosaur and Nara Prefecture’s mascot character Sentokun.

The company’s Yao factory is full of figures in such shapes as a bear, a toothbrush and even a pork cutlet on rice.

During a recent visit to the factory, five workers were sculpting and painting foam polystyrene blocks.

“All the work, from the beginning through to the end, is done by hand,” Nakamura said.

They cut foam polystyrene into various shapes based on illustrations, coat them with fiber-reinforced plastics for strength and carefully paint them so they look real.

The same procedure is used whether making models of meat or rough rocks.

Nakamura says he used to work for a pharmaceutical company but left because he wanted to run his own business, “whatever it would be.”

He then spotted a newspaper ad for job openings at a billboard maker and decided to try his luck, although he had little knowledge or experience in the field.

In 1986, he started his own firm in Moriguchi, Osaka Prefecture, and for several years focused on making ordinary two-dimensional billboards.

But after he created the green dragon for the Dotombori ramen shop in 1997, orders began coming in for 3-D ads.

The company, which was moved to Yao in 2007, currently deals with 3-D ads only and receives orders from around Japan and even China and Singapore.

Nakamura said the Dotombori district is the ideal place for him to show his skills by creating billboards that grab attention.

He said his model of a hand holding the tuna sushi surprised the client at first, but the restaurant has been happy since the tourists started rolling in.

“I will fill up Dotombori with 3-D ads and turn the area into a major tourist attraction in Japan,” Nakamura said.

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