For many who passed by the factory, it is just a building compound that had a red and blue box with white stars on the center of each of them. But to those who have scale modeled at one point in their lives, they knew that it was the symbol of the benchmark of plastic scale modeling.
To get inside the Tamiya Factory where the scale models are made probably has the same odds that Charlie Bucket had with the Chocolate Factory. Luckily for me, there was no need to buy a Wonka bar to win the Golden Ticket.
And lucky for everyone, we were allowed to take photos of the whole process.
That’s the thing about car enthusiasts. I think it is innate for people that love cars to love scale models, so much so that in one point in our lives, we have built one from scratch, raced with the Mini 4WDs, or simply bought a pre-built scale model as the perfect paperweight for our desks. There is just something about the details that captivate us.
To this day, no one really knows what the stars stand for, but the best version we heard of was that the red symbolized creativity while blue stood for sincerity. Whichever the case, Tamiya did start as a model manufacturer, but actually started from wood and later on, switched mediums to plastic. What put them on the map was when they participated in the 1967 Nuremberg Toy Fair in Germany, with the 1965 Honda RA272 F1 racecar in 1/12 scale. It was a fitting spearhead, simply because it was the 1st Japanese car to win a Formula One Grand Prix. From that point on, Tamiya was known to produce the best plastic scale models the world has ever seen.
Tamiya is an integrated company that does everything for themselves. This ranges from planning, development, manufacturing, and packaging. This makes Tamiya able to do everything they need to get the job done the way they want to. When we asked for a percentage of how much of Tamiya was made in the Philippines, we were told without a blink that it was around 90%, with 10% being done in Japan.
When a scale model is decided to be made, it first reaches the product-planning phase, wherein they do a deep dive into the research of what they are emulating. They go to where the actual unit is, take notes and reference photos, and interview every detail they can get. Sometimes, Tamiya goes as far as purchasing the actual unit, putting their passion into the details.
Once the research is done, they CAD (Computer-Aided Design) everything to scale, keeping in mind accuracy and user-friendliness. For units like the beloved Mini 4WDs, Remote Control vehicles and alike, they create prototypes for testing purposes. Once they are satisfied with the implementations, they send the designs to Tamiya Philippines.
When the CADs are received, the Filipino team then designs the mold to ensure that the designs are implemented accurately, which they later on produce. They are produced by precise machines, but Tamiya takes pride in applying a human touch to the models right after, that not only assures quality, but also gives a characteristic like no other. With the help of the molds, plastic is then injected into the molds with high pressure at 200 °C. It is then removed from the mold, inspected, and then packaged. Surprisingly, every box art you see from Tamiya is an actual painting done by commissioned Japanese artists, which is then printed here in the Philippines later on. It all sounds so simple, but when you consider this process is done multiple times on multiple lines at a 4-hectare property, it is only then that one grasps the idea of how big Tamiya is. Everything it takes to make a complete model is done inside.
As much as we wanted to take some models home, Tamiya Philippines isn’t allowed to for custom reasons (for those who were asking). In fact, it is cheaper to get the models from the official distributors like Lil’s Hobby Center, Blade, and Hobbes and Landes instead of straight from the factory that is just located here in Mactan, Cebu.
At the end of the day, I felt like I got to know more than I was ever expecting. More than learning how these models were made, it was the pleasure and opportunity to see that behind a hobby that people of all ages engage in, the hands of our countrymen put it together. In its simplicity, Tamiya has stayed timeless and distinguishable from the rest.
So, the next time you see a Tamiya scale model anywhere around the world, remember that it probably came from our backyard.
Now if only that same backyard had a gift shop…