Echo World – A Remembrance of Things Past

One of the miniature scenes above boasts “2mm cuts of salmon on a 1cm low-sitting table.” However, when compared to the one-yen coin sitting beside it, the reality of those sizes is likely to be much smaller. This is just one of the many extremely small re-creations which are currently on display as part of the “World of Echo Models” exhibit, which also features Showa Era photos, in addition to domestic, bucolic, urban, and suburban scenes, many prominently featuring contemporary vehicles and electronics.

Echo Models, established 35 years ago, has long toiled over making accurate and “heartwarming” Showa Era reproductions. The current collection, constructed by a handful of artisans, does its best to depict what is fondly remembered as Japan’s modern “Golden Age” in 1/80 scale. Fields of rice, trains rolling along tracks cut through the countryside, prominent stations in Tokyo, residential blocks, city streets, and a student’s small “6 tatami mat” sized room were just some of the many themes represented. The amount of detail and time that went into each piece was stunning – even portions of the model obscured from view do to buildings, windows, people, or other obstacles were earnestly depicted, viewable only through good balance and esoteric body movements.

Islands in the middle of the exhibit hall pointed out the finer details of model construction. For the most part, all models were constructed and painted in ways that mirrored larger plastic models, such as Gundams, the major difference being size in relation to the scale of the model. Tiny parts like teakettles were forked out on something like a plastic tree – actually incorporated into the plastic mold. Given that this setup exposes the most surface area while still keeping the object poised in suspension, it provides the perfect environment for painting model parts, which dry in the same fashion. After the parts are dry, they are then carefully removed from the “tree” base. Other parts, such as those for bicycles and other machinery, came suspended in very thin frames of plastic. They were colored similarly before assembly, though it’s important to remember (anyone who’s made a plastic model would attest to this) that smoothly removing objects from their frame is key to making a realistic depiction. This proves ever more difficult when the objects are rounded at the point of removal, or if the point of removal will expose a visible area, and thus must be painted smoothly in order to conceal the underlying plastics.

It wasn’t surprising to see products from companies such as Tamiya in the gift shop. Tamiya apparently has a special line of flat acrylic paints for such models, in addition to various types of greenery and textured bases. Some of the gift shop items included miniature Showa models made exclusively for the Maruzen exhibit, ranging from 30,000 – 180,000 yen, with optional Tamiya display cases. A huge collection of Showa Era books, including photo collections, period novels, and old maps among many others, drew in a lot of people. There even seemed to be more visitors in that section than the rest of the exhibit hall at most times.

Surprisingly, or otherwise, more than half of the visitors there seemed too young to have known the Showa Era. Though it actually lasted about 63 years, from 1926-1989, and includes WWII, the Showa that lingers in people’s hearts and minds started after the American occupation, in about 1954. This is also the time referred to as the “Japanese Miracle,” during which time Japan re-built itself both politically and economically through the help of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. This miniature exhibit is certainly not the only homage paid to Showa, of which airs are also recreated in small theme parks and restaurants around Tokyo.

Writer and scholar Jordan Sand attributes these predilections for Showa to a lost sense of self, as most Tokyo-ites are not local and lack the nostalgia generated from personal and family history. Thus, a false sense of nostalgia is generated through this same capitalist structure, which in fact caused their displacement in most cases, in order to appease an innate human desire for belonging and stability. This is arguably recreated through other outlets as well – such as obsessions with branded goods, and play-like domestic spheres created in maid cafes. However, no matter what the generation, the mere mention of the Golden Days of Showa almost always strikes the same brand of nostalgic appeal.

The exhibit is currently being held at the Marunouchi branch of Maruzen, located near Tokyo Station, and will last through the 12th; admission is free.  Promotional materials from the encourage you to have a “Gulliver moment” as you browse through the 1/80 scale Showa world.

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