What follows is my semi rambling blog about my trip to Japan and the Kaiju Comrades 2 art toy show in Tokyo, March 9th-16th, 2010 ….
It’s Monday, March 15th, 2010 … the show has now closed and we have to pack everything up, patch holes, haul out trash at the gallery today. This is the glamorous part of curating a show ( ha-ha ) but before this last fun part, Yo picks me up for a quick bite to eat .. yummy, noodles with daikon radish ;-P
and we’re off to visit Shimizu-san and his vinyl pouring factory.
after a series of trains and a short bus ride, I’m shocked to see Shimizu-san waiting for us on a corner of the street. Like Goto-san he’s in his late 60’s but moves so fast that I almost drop my video camera (!) I hate to even fumble with a camera but can not let this experience pass without some pictures and video 😉 We turn a corner and I see a familiar sight .. what appears to be a nearly falling down building with curled pieces of wood on the front side is Shimizu-sans factory !
I remember seeing this in a Marusan YouTube video .. so it was sorta deja vu. Again, like Goto-san, the place is small, maybe 12×12 feet at best, the actual work area is much smaller.. I can not imagine how he can crank out hundreds if not thousands of pieces each month.
There’s a pile of liquid vinyl to my left, the stack raises at least 7 feet into the air .. this is what is used for the vinyl material.
I know many of you Toy Nerds will skip all my rambling and go straight for the video .. thats fine, I understand 😉 Please proceed .. in an orderly manner of course .. now for those of you still reading this let me say that Shimizu-san is a craftsman, and a really hard worker. As I stand watching him go about his process i notice that there are no extra moves, each time something is done is an economy of motion.. a twist of his wrist here, a glance at the clock on the wall, a step back to pivot and turn .. a dance he has preformed most likely a million times in his long career.. The hot oil he works over is like a griddle, the iron molds are his burgers, each is moved at times that only he knows is the right time …sometimes the vinyl must be rare , other times well done. As any good chef will tell you, this sense can be learned, but a really master chef is born that way .. indeed Shimizu-san laughs this off, but he is indeed a master at what he does .. and sorry to say one of only about a dozen left in Japan to do so. I ask him if he has an apprentice or someone to take over when he decides to stop .. the answer came quickly, “No” … no one… Like Goto-san, the young have moved away from manual jobs like these in favor of a nice office and 401K .. and who would blame them ? But, still there is a feeling I am witnessing the last of his kind… I watch intently to take in this moment in time… anything and everything… I breath deeply, the smell is very similar to a vintage Bullmark vinyl … I listen to the vacuum pump chugging away … I see heat raising from the vinyl in the molds…I look at Shimizu-sans arms, they are rock hard from lifting 10 pound plus molds, but also have burn marks from hot vinyl… during the summer there is no air conditioning in here .. the heat can reach well over 90 degrees as he works … Than it all stops, he takes his gloves off and hands us a 1000 yen bill ( roughly $10.00 usd ) and tells Yo go get something to drink ! We go outside and down the street to select a beverage, I ask Yo if I should pay.. but am instructed that it is his treat.. another old school way of doing business .. we return and he looks puzzled that I choose water to drink ;-P Within a few minutes he starts up again and once again his
dance begins, right where he stopped. If it were possible to imprint your actions or emotions in a place .. I can imagine his vinyl dance is imprint right there, his moves stuck in time forever…
various molds from different toy makers hang from the ceiling …
First step is to pour hot liquid vinyl into the molds..
The mold in the old days would than be spun in a centrifuge, but now a vacuum chamber is used to pull air bubbles out of the liquid…
once pulled out of the vacuum chamber the mold is placed into a hot oil bath, this heats up the outside of the mold and in turn “cooks” the vinyl on the walls of the mold.. as he watches the clock he knows how long to leave it in the oil bath before pull it out and dumping the excess vinyl back into the vinyl pot…
with the excess vinyl poured off the mold is returned to the hot oil .. the time it spends here depends on how thick the vinyl will be .. the mold is quickly pulled out of the oil bath and dunked into cold water briefly, than the mold is set aside to cool slightly …than like a surgeon, Shimizu-san grabs a long nose piler and short one, and using a firm twisting motion pulls each piece from the molds to a table top. The pieces when handled are hot, almost too hot to hold, and very soft .. the smell is a waxy candle like smell that vinyl collectors will recognize… but not too oft putting.
Within a few minutes the vinyl cools and hardens .. till finally it is hard to the touch.
But Shimizu-sans work is not done, after he’s pulled how ever many pieces for a given mold, he goes back to hand trim all the excess vinyl.. using what looks like pruning shears and a razor blade knife, he trims various pieces with each .. it depends on if it’s a straight cut or just snipping off a bigger piece.. again he does this in quick fashion.. as I watched him do this I remembered how my grandfather would take a knife and peel a apple, like this, slowly turning the toy into the blade, as the excess vinyl twirled off towards his hand and onto the table …
He tells us that in the past, they would bag up these untrimmed pieces and have house wives in the area trim them .. but since most women don’t stay home any more.. well time marches on…
Before the mold is ready, Shimizu-san preps them by pouring a thin, throw away vinyl pouring..to coat and heat up the mold.. kinda like that first pancake you make, you know the one that is all light colored and doesn’t taste right, till the second one 😉 He threw this in the garbage … I had to be an Ugly American, and made my friend Yo ask if I could have this piece ( look I am a collector so how could I not ask ! ) He chuckled and said of course, no problem … lucky me 😉
What does Nirvana look like to a toy collector, well this is pretty darn close, I’m holding one of the mini max molds 😉
Video of Shimizu-san at work.
Our time was up and we had to return to the gallery to pack up. Shimizu-san drove us back to the station, but before he did he stopped for a few minutes and returned with a gift for us as a thank you. What class !
My first trip ever to Japan was in 2001, at the ripe old age of 37. Having a toy company and making my own toys was not even in my mind at that point 😉
End of this year will mark the 5th year anniversary of Max Toy Company and nearly 10 trips to Japan.. I think for the most part I have stayed on course and mission with Max Toys…not only to make my own toys, but also to show and tell others about Goto-san & Shimizu-san , the many talented artists and the vinyl scene in Japan.. but, also to make the toy collector realize that this type of toy has it’s roots in Japan…and that it is a dying art form. We need to tell not only other collectors about this art form but to also tell our kids… call them Kaiju Kids (sorry Ralph !) .. I don’t expect them to choose the hard life of a craftsman, but just maybe there will be one of them who takes up the baton of Kaiju painting or vinyl pouring in Japan… one can hope !
So what is in store for the next time, Kaiju Comrades 3 ? well, lets just say we want to bask in the glory of this one (and rest !) but for sure we will return next year.. it will be different, we have our plans and hope you can make it out to Japan to join us. If all goes as planned it will be a very special event 😉
So, after several hours of packing and waiting for the truck to pick up the boxes, the show was finally over… well, not for Yo, as he still had many more days of sending back art and paying the artists ;-( A thankless job at best .. I’m sorry i could not help with this part… Thank you, my friend !
My only trip to a toy store was Kiddyland in Harajuku to get YuGiOh! cards and Bakugans for Max .. oh, I did break down and buy myself a Bandai Ultraman figure 😉
Barely 7 days in Japan, I’ve met dozens of artists, saw old friends and made new ones, saw Goto-san and Shimizu-san, put on an art show and now I’m back on a plane home to San Francisco ! It’s always like that, but in a way has to be .. I don’t live in Japan, and most likely never will ( well I thought about being Shimizu-sans or Goto-sans apprentice, ha-ha ) so each time I return there’s always a sense of urgency … to get things done in the short time I am there… the times are tough and I only hope by shining my small spotlight on them and others as I travel to Japan, that they will be recognized at least in a small way that what they do is an craft and art form unique to Japan.
Thanks for all the positive Toy Karma I’ve been getting and I send out Toy Karma to you and my friends in Japan ! Till next time my Kaiju Comrades !