Japan October 2010, In Living Kolor – Part 1

The following series of blogs are about my trip to Tokyo, Japan to participate in the “In Living Kolor” toy art sale and demonstration show.

The basic idea of this show was to introduce a new type of paint for toys, called Monster Kolor. Matt Walker ( aka Dead Presidents Designs ) is the developer and creator of this paint, but has also gained much attention within the Art Toy world as a top notch and sought after toy painter. By setting up several airbrushes and having plenty of paint to use, invited artists could use the paint in person on an actual toy.

Joining us on this trip was Keith Fulmis of BeBop Designs, artist and designer and maker of most awesome pins ( Like the Kaiju Eyezon pin, ;-P ). This was his first foray to Japan.


Over the last 9 years, I’ve made about 12 trips to Tokyo.. both as a toy collector, store owner, and now a toy company ( Max Toy Company ). I’ve witnessed the toy scene change over these years but the one thing that is always constant for me is the excitement of simply going to Japan and never quite knowing who I will met or where I will end up !

October 20th, 2010 – Wednesday :

With bag packed to full capacity I take off for the San Francisco airport with my head filled with so many last minute details i’m a bit out of it. Let me digress, many months earlier as Matt was developing his line of paints the idea he came up with was what if we went to a Japanese toy show and set up a compressor and airbrush and gave live in person demos painting soft vinyl toys. And one step further, how cool would it be to have the other artists actually join in ! ” Yes ! ” I said lets do it 😉 Ah, not so fast you two .. or Jedi Toy Master ( Yo-san ) warned us .. well, if you guys do that a couple of problems, one being the paint we use needs good ventilation and second there could be some Toy Politics involved … ugh .. ya, there are toy politics even in such a tiny niche of a niche called kaiju toys ! Well, both Matt and I felt strongly about the basic idea and thought if we build it, they will come !!!

Yo suggested the Design Festa Gallery East building as a some what neutral ground to all involved, plus they had several areas open to the street so the over spray smell would not be a problem… ah, perfect .. so with that we reserved the space.

It fell to me to take Yo’s concept drawing for the show poster and render a show image
I thought Yo’s drawing was actually cute and we should have used that !
I’ll note for the record thats i completed this painting in a few days !

Matt and I are suppose to be blue and red demons !

As I met up with Keith near the gate at San Francisco Airport we made our way to the plane … but, I still wondered if anyone would show up and simply paint. I, like my counter parts in Japan, all paint in our own homes and I don’t know anyone who paints in a group situation. I know most artists don’t really want to paint in the public eye as well .. but, still I had hope at least a few of our buddies would show up and we’d make the best of it.

We got on the plane, which was not full, and away we went 10.5 hours to Japan !

Since I’ve done this trip enough i know it’s a long haul… if I’m alone I just put on my headphones and sketch or if I’m lucky try to sleep.. this time I could talk to Keith.. so that helped the time go by .. about 6 hours worth of toy talk 😉

Soon enough we’re landing at Narita airport .. and are greeted with a light rain. Oh boy, not good for an outside painting demo .. but, anyways the show must go on. We make our way through customs, and go get our luggage … I’m at home in Japan, it’s an odd feeling of total ease I get whenever I’ve visited, even on my first trip .. but, I know I also will never fit in ( since I can not speak or read Japanese, being third generation Japanese-American ) .. ya, I’m a bit of an odd ball here … as i totally look like I should fit in and yet don’t ! Ha-Ha .. it’s fine, I try my best to NOT be the Ugly American and to that point my Japanese manners automatically emerge.

As always my good friend and trusted right hand man, Yo Miyamoto ( aka The Toy Whisperer ) greets us outside of customs, along with Matt whose arrived earlier. After exchanging money ( awful conversion rate by the way, about 77 yen to the Dollar, ouch ! ) we take off for Yo’s car and the long 1.5 hour ride back to Tokyo and the Shinjuku district .. where we are staying at the Kadoya Hotel.

This is the second time i’ve stayed here and find it very well located in the Shinjuku area and only a few blocks from the subway station and the bus back to Narita.

It’s a classic business mans hotel ..meaning no frills, just a place to sleep and store your stuff. The staff is very helpful and during my stay they all understood basic English, without any problems. Price is great as well, for us on a budget.. more for toy shopping 😉

After we check in we head off for some dinner .. found this semi western place with hamburger on a hot plate covered in gravy which was sizzling 😉

No disrespect to Japanese chefs and diners but I notice there are some odd things always sprinkled into such western fair .. like it’s a hamburger but has corn and shredded cabbage thrown in … odd for us Americans but heck it tastes good.
Matt showed off his new evil Space guy to us .. amazing paint job as always !

we chat about the Kaiju toy scene, various rumors and such, whose hot, whose not ..also discuss the show …and the upcoming visits to various factories…

after dinner Matt requests ice cream .. in what would become a nightly request(!)

.. so we eat ice cream and take off… as we approach Yo’s car, there’s something on his windshield which to me, looks like that universal parking ticket we all have seen .. and sure enough it is .. damn ! .. I say it’s the ice cream that made us late ! ha-ha … Later, we learn the ticket was nearly $200 !! Geez … Matt and I paid for Yo 😉

Ok, so Yo bids us goodbye and takes off into the night… but, Matt, Keith and I are not tired so we simply walk around the area back up to the subway area

… and look at all the buildings and salarymen and families walking to and fro … I look at faces that look familiar and yet not .. parts of faces look like my uncle or my aunt .. sometimes i see a pair of eyes that look exactly like my late father .. at those times it stops my heart for a micro second .. I think it is kinda like a twilight zone episode where my father isn’t really dead, but living away his life half way around the world … The smells of Japanese grilled food waft in and out from street side vendors .. I remember my mother’s cooking…

every now and than I’m startled to hear an American or English voice as they pass me by .. I’m sure they think I am a native … I don’t have much regret in my life, but perhaps that i did not keep taking Japanese school lessons as a young boy of 7 years old… on some level the longer I stay here simple words or expression I do remember ..come back to me … could I live here ? I will never know .. perhaps in my next life …
We make our way back to the hotel, tomorrow which is Friday, will be the set up day for the show. Yo and I have a meeting at Medicom Toys and later a group dinner with many of our fellow artist friends, so another full day.

With the time change it’s actually the next day for us, or Thursday, so we have traveled to the future, as we like to say… neat idea, but bad for adjusting your sleep habits .. it also doesn’t help that they drive on the opposite side of the road.. so even passing someone on the sidewalk you stand to the left and NOT the right ! standing on the right will get you a loud bicycle ring or a disgusted look ;-P

I get back to my room and wonder again will anyone show up to the show on Saturday.. I can’t sleep … the room is non-smoking but still smells of smoke… I hear the wail of sirens in the distance… and soon sleep… it’s 1:30 am I don’t want to check what time it is in the States ….eyes close, and fade to dreams … 睡眠

Next Blog, Day 2 and setting up the show !

About toykarma

Over the years Mark Nagata has collected thousands of toys and a fair amount of titles. The man behind San Francisco-based Max Toy Company is widely known as: Toy Collector. Illustrator. Magazine Founder/Publisher. Toy Designer. Artist. Author. Husband. Father. But the one description that might fit best is an unofficial one – Kaiju Toy and Art Ambassador. In the Japanese-inspired art and toy area, as well as throughout the larger toy collecting community, Mark is welcomed and recognized for his personal passion and commitment to supporting artists all around the world and the unique works they create. Beginning as a collector in his youth, Mark has had for years a keen eye for great art and a personal interest in collecting that he has spread through a variety of outlets. Trained at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, Mark honed his skills working for himself and for some of the most notable businesses in the country. As a freelance commercial illustrator, he completed works for such prominent companies as Lucasfilms, DC Comics, Hasbro Toys, IBM, Sony, and numerous advertising and design firms, both national and international. Mark’s colorful style graces over 40 cover paintings for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps book series – Give Yourself Goosebumps. After hundreds of assignments, Mark made the decision to move in another direction, and that choice has led to whole new career as a successful businessman. For four years, the owner of one of the largest Ultraman toy collections in the world co-published Super 7 Magazine showcasing the finest in Japanese toy collecting. “I’d been collecting Japanese toys all along and suddenly realized it would be cool to have a magazine of some type devoted to them,” Nagata says. Mark’s devotion to presenting collectors with a selection of original figures inspired by classic Japanese toys from the 1960s and ‘70s as well as new versions of licensed Japanese characters is at the heart of Max Toy Company. Named for his son, Max Toys specializes in custom and limited editions of “kaiju” (Japanese monsters) toys and artwork. Many of the original toys produced are hand painted by Mark, a tradition that goes back to Japanese toy makers of the past. “Since our target is the soft vinyl Japanese toy collector, which is a very small niche, our runs of toys can be extremely small,” Mark says. “Runs range from 500 pieces of one toy to just one for a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind custom figure.” Through Max Toys, Mark has taken great pains to widen the reach of his two passions – toys and art. He played a significant part in the development of the first group kaiju show in the United States. Held at the Rotofugi Gallery in Chicago, Illinois in 2007, the “Toy Karma” Show featured detailed work from artists from Japan, the U.S. and South America. Participants marveled at the custom-painted toys and art on display. “Toy Karma” led to Mark being asked to be one of the artists spotlighted in the “Beyond Ultraman: Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier” exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The October 2007 show, held jointly with the Los Angeles Toy, Doll and Amusement Museum, marked the first time – in a museum setting – that the influence of Japanese toys on California artists was explored. The exhibit featured more than 30 of Mark’s original paintings, toys and a selection of his vintage toy collection. Mark continued to be at the forefront as interest in Japanese-inspired art and toys expanded in 2008. Prestigious art houses Philips De Pury and Christie’s in New York and London sold Mark’s hand-painted custom kaiju toys in its auctions, spreading this unique art and toy movement into new and uncharted areas of the art world. In 2009, Mark once again took his love of toys and art overseas this time to a receptive and welcoming audience in Tokyo, Japan. Here, Mark curated the “Kaiju Comrades” Art Show, once again bringing together artists from various aspects of the kaiju toy realm in this first-of-its-kind toy art show. The following year found Mark in Barcelona, Spain co-curating with Emilio Garcia “Kaiju Attack,” the European country’s first kaiju art show. As the growth of kaiju art and toys increases worldwide, Mark continues in his unofficial role of Kaiju Toy and Art Ambassador. He has written and had his artwork and toy designs included in several books and magazines, both domestic and international. In 2010, Mark served as guest lecturer on kaiju and the toy-making process at the Morikami Museum in Florida. The San Francisco resident and his art can also be spotted in the first volume of the “ToyPunks” DVD and the “Toys R Us” DVD, while the video for the number one song by Owl City “Fireflies” featured Mark’s popular Kaiju Eyezon character. During this same time period, Mark has spearheaded the “Toy Karma 2” and “Kaiju Comrades 2” shows and has plans for future shows both in the U.S. and overseas. “Max Toys allows me to produce original artwork, new toys and work directly with a lot of talented artists,” Mark says. “Max Toy is a synthesis of toys and art, both life-long passions.”
This entry was posted in art show, bullmark, Japanese toys, mark nagata, Max Toy Company, soft vinyl. Bookmark the permalink.

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