Model plastic model cars, such as the Mini 4WD, are getting pretty popular these days, especially in Japan. This ‘Mini’ revival comes around every ten years or so, grabbing hobby shop enthusiasts by the heartstrings of nostalgia and bringing happiness wherever it goes. The last time the Mini 4WD was popular was in the late 80's and the late 90's. You’d expect kids to be the ones getting excited over these cool toys, but this time, it’s actually the adults who are getting hooked on Mini 4WD.
Tamiya is the Ultimate Mini 4WD
Tamiya’s official shop is the Mini 4WD manufacturer in Shimbashi, called Tamiya Plamodel Factory. The shop is of an impressive size carrying all of Tamiya's products (6,000 items in total), including Mini 4WD. If you're looking for Mini 4WD, just head down to this shop and you won't go wrong.
There are some kids in the shop too, but customers there are mostly adults in their 30s to 40s. The shop is spacious and spreads across 3 floors, including a basement floor. On the 1st floor, scale model series products such as cars, ships, and tanks, as well as tools are on sale. Naturally, it has the feeling of a model shop.
The 2nd floor is a multi-purpose space called "Modeler's Square" and customers can enjoy assembling the plastic models they bought from the shop or drive Mini 4WD on a large race course. The entire basement is dedicated to the Mini 4WD.
The walls of the basement are completely covered with boxes. Incredibly, there are more than 100 types of cars in total! Upon asking the staff about recent models of the Mini 4WD, it seems that in reality, the fundamental structure of Mini 4WD hasn't changed much over the years, and hasn’t needed to. So anyone who has played with Mini 4WD in the past can start playing with them right away. Next to the shelf lined with cars is another shelf filled with tune-up parts such as motors and wheels.
Get Ready, Set, Build a Mini 4WD!
Once you’ve bought your Mini 4WD, you’ll of course need a place to put it together. Conveniently enough, they have something called the Modeler's Square facility. To use it, you'll need a passport (valid for a year) which is issued when you spend 3,000 JPY or more at this shop. You can also get a day pass for the facility if you spend 1,000 JPY or more. Another pleasant surprise is that passports aren't required if you are an elementary or middle school student, or a female customer. There are a plethora of places to sit down and get to work (about 60 tables and seats available) which can be used until closing time.
You can give your new Mini 4WD a beautiful finish if you have a nipper, which is a plastic model tool. Unfortunately, at Tamiya Plamodel Factory, edged tools aren't available for rent, so don't forget to bring your own from home. Or, if you don't have any, you’ll have to purchase them from the tool section on the 1st floor.
It takes about an hour to complete one model. A base Mini 4WD from the kit can go up to 20 km/h even before any tuning or modifications.
Speed Your Mini 4WD up With Some Modification!!
After the Mini 4WD is built, up next is the best part of Mini 4WD - modification. The friendly staff is more than willing to give you some advice as well. I asked for some tips and pointers from the staff. I told him, "I just want to make it fast!", but he told me the car would slide off the race course if made to be too fast. According to him, the most important thing is that the car is balanced with the race course. You can never win with only speed.
Taking a quick look at the car you may notice the parts attached to the front and rear of the body. This is part of the "First Try Parts Set" which can be purchased. This will help absorb the centrifugal force which makes your car tilt when cornering. Also, you won't be able to see it since it's installed inside the car, but I changed out the motor for a Torque-Tuned 2 Motor with a higher rotation frequency. Additionally, smaller parts, such as higher strength carbon reinforced gears, have also been installed. The number of changes and upgrades you can make to your Tamiya Mini 4WD is pretty cool. The options are almost limitless!
Amazing! It’s too fast to be captured in a picture and it's faster than before. It doesn't slide off the course either. It really is fun to play with Tamiya RCs.
Tamiya Puramoderu Fakutorii Shimbashiten タミヤ プラモデルファクトリー 新橋店
- Address No.6 Toyokaiji Building 4-7-2 Shimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0004
Head Down to Mini 4WD Bar for Even More Action
Relying on a map, I headed towards the Mini 4WD bar in Koenji, "Hideaway Garage". True to its name, it's tucked away on the 3rd floor of a building that faces an intersection. It’s difficult to tell where it is, because I don’t see much signage for the bar. "4WD" is written on the window, so that has to be it.
Entering the bar, there's a group of friends having fun building Mini 4WD and a businessman silently modifying his Mini 4WD alone. The bar charges 2,000 JPY (including taxes) for 2 hours of all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-race.
You can also bring your own things. Of course you can bring your Mini 4WD, and there's no problem bringing things like the alcohol and bento box (a packed lunch or dinner) that you bought from Lawson's across the intersection from the bar. The bar also has various Mini 4WD for sale. The cars you see on the wall are the ones in stock. All the tools needed for working on your car can be borrowed for free, so it's alright to drop by the bar empty-handed.
I asked for some advice on my new Tamiya Mini 4WD from the bartender, Mr. Tetsuka, who is an expert in Mini 4WD. He said, "This is an all-around setting which is great for an introductory car. But, I suggest that you change your rollers to bearing rollers so there will be less friction." Now, that's a real pro. He looks at things differently. As I was listening to Mr. Tetsuka's Mini 4WD lecture, other customers started gathering around us. The atmosphere here is great.
After talking to the other customers, I found out that they would be participating in Tamiya's Mini 4WD race competition, called the "Japan Cup," the following day. It was being held in Osaka, so they said they would be heading down there by car later today. What an amazing bunch of people I had bumped into. I asked if I could see their machines, and theirs were on an entirely different level. They were all in different job industries and didn't know each other before, but they met through Mini 4WD and now participate in competitions together. From Mr. Tetsuka I heard, "Everyone loves the same thing, so it looks like they quickly became friends."
I thought Mini 4WD would get quite a bit faster just by adding some parts, but I was so wrong. I had to think about the balance, friction, and other things. It was more complex than I imagined. It's fun to concentrate on modification, aiming to build the ideal machine. Not only can you pick up a fun new hobby, you can also meet new people and possibly make new friends. But, I recommend finding the courage to go out to the circuit if you feel like testing your ability. If it's a place where Mini 4WD lovers gather, you'll easily find an opponent to race against.
Hideaway Garage Hideaway Garage
- Address 3F Toyooka Bldg, 4-5-3, Koenjiminami, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, 166-0003