Tuesday 31 May 2016

In another time and place

No progress on the Siege Campaign to report, largely because I spent 12 days in Japan. It was a good trip, pretty packed taking in four cities and Hakone national park and riding the bullet train five times.

Japan is generally thought to be a very different culture, but there are some parallels with the UK. Both are Island nations*, with a strong naval tradition. There island status makes them just far removed enough from the nearby mainland to feel somewhat apart from it, while still being heavily influenced by it. Both are obsessed with manors and class. Both punch above their weight culturally. And then there's the question of modelling.

While in Kyoto I visited the International Manga Museum (strongly recommended if you get the chance), which was holding a temporary exhibition about model kits. Sadly, photography was banned, so I couldn't get any pictures. But the exhibition was a mix of historical dioramas and customised giant robot kits, all painted to a standard comparable to the best professional painters of wargaming figures I have seen. Each artist's area was accompanied by a large black and white photo of them at work with a comment about the ideas and influences in three languages. It was a bit pretentious, but interesting that the modellers were being treated as serious artists.

Not far from the Museum was a basement shop selling a substantial range of model kits, along with the tools and paints needed to put them together and a number of glossy magazines about the hobby. You can see from these what Games Workshop was trying to achieve with Warhammer Visions, even if they have a long way to go to reach the Japanese standard of magazine production.

The kits on offer ranged from historical vehicles, to giant robots from various series, video-game, manga and anime characters. Conspicuous by its total absence, was any kind of wargame rules. There is simply no home-grown wargaming hobby in Japan at all. This is not to say there is no gaming. Trading card games, from Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon to western imports like Magic the Gathering are hugely popular and there are stores selling board games. I even found one with a range of western imports like Ticket to Ride and Small World. But wargaming has little or no traction.

I visited Japan once before in 2010 and, during that trip, stumbled across Tokyo Games Workshop and even found a few shops with a scattering of GW paints and models. All of this seems to have died away since my last trip and wargaming has, if anything, even less of a presence than before.

The latest issue of Miniature Wargames Magazine includes an article reminding gamers that you don't need perfectly painted models to play a game and advocating a simpler painting style. My trip to Japan reminds us that the opposite is also true. That you can collect and paint models quite happily without ever playing a game with them.

Although, in the UK, we automatically associate collecting and painting models with wargaming, Japan reminds us that there are really two separate hobbies here and that, in another time and place, one can exist without the other being present at all.

*Actually archipelagos dominated by a large central island

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