Maneki-neko are Japanese figurines of cats that businesses all over the world have adopted to beckon customers and the money burning holes in their pockets. The cats often hold large, old-style Japanese gold coins in enormous denominations, as this lovely white cat by Taiwanese builder DOGOD Brick Design does — this maneki-neko holds a coin worth ten million yen! This lovely feline was recently installed at the Masterpiece Gallery in the LEGO House.
Maneki-neko hold their paws up in the gesture that Japanese people use to ask someone to come over — palm facing out while “scooping” the fingers toward yourself, rather than palm up as many Westerners do.
The 2017 Bio-cup Bionicle contest is a great source of outstanding creations in the titular theme, with Tengu by the Belarussian builder Vlad Lisin as a prime example. Vlad’s theme for this round was feudal Japan and this samurai- and oni-inspired character has Japanese style to spare.
The menacing and muscular body gives a strong first impression, and details like the bead necklace and sandals reward closer inspection. In the end, all that is overshadowed by the masterfully sculpted face with a glorious white beard and the yellow eyes standing out in contrast with the dark red skin.
The prolific teenaged builder William Navarre is no stranger to realistic historical Japanese themes, but this latest creation of a company of samurai ambushing a camp of the emperor’s ashigaru is one of his best addditions to the series.
There is much to see in this full LEGO scene, from the minifig action that seems to express motion much better than one would expect of the somewhat motorically limited minifig, to the flags and the realistic ground texture. The background deserves discussion too; while the opinions on the trees’ textures may be variable, the textures do work for what they are supposed to. More importantly, you should not miss the most subtle, but also the most ingeniously simple part of the build: the angled black background with dark blue rays of light penetrating the treetops.
The oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo is Sensō-ji, founded in 645 AD and dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. Taiwanese builder ZiO Chao, whose massive SHIELD Helicarrier we featured last year, has been building travel themed LEGO mosaics over the last few months, and his latest is the iconic “Thunder Gate” at Sensō-ji. Beyond the gate, a street of shops leads up to the temple itself, and ZiO has captured the roofs of the shops using forced perspective.
While not quite as intricate a LEGO build, ZiO has also built the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing. I love the beautiful simplicity of the yellow roof and red columns against a clear, blue sky.
In the world of LEGO Ninjago, Nya is the current Elemental Master and Ninja of Water, as well as Kai’s younger sister. Daniel Huang has crafted a large figure version of her using a mixture of Bionicle, System and Technic elements. Daniel has posed Nya slaying the Green Dragon, with her samurai sword plunged deep into the head. The clever use of tyres and tracks within her leg structure contrasts with cloth robes and some ample CCBS assets for a unique blend of styles.
Contrasting with her dragon-slaying pose, Nya also has a clear feminine side, albeit with a few weapons in tow. I particularly like her head, as it’s well constructed with her helmet, and she gives off a ton of attitude in ABS.
Machiya are traditional wooden townhouses found throughout Japan and typified in the historical capital of Kyoto. This LEGO version of a machiya by Dan Blom is a great example of a seemingly simple build that really looks the part. The key architectural details like the barred window, known as mushiko mado [literal translation is ‘insect cage window’] and the wooden lattice façade are accurately represented. These days most roofs are covered with clay tiles called kawara, and Dan has left the LEGO studs exposed to give the impression of neatly arranged, rough tiles.
The addition of some extra little details such as the cart, the various items outside the front of the house and the ancient-looking tree complete the scene perfectly.
There’s a strong possibility that I’ll be traveling to Japan for work later this year, and I’ve spent the last couple of evenings revisiting childhood haunts via Google Maps and looking at rail connections to get from one end of the country to the other. This train station by Japanese builder Kaz Fuji was thus quite timely as I plan potential rail travel to places like Kyoto and Nara.
See more of these Japanese trains and the train station
A few years ago, I built a microscale version of Tokyo, complete with rampaging kaiju. While Marco Gan‘s microscale Tokyo is considerably less colorful, it accurately captures the view of Neo-Tokyo seen in the 1988 Japanese animated movie Akira (and Katsuhiro Otomo’s original manga version that ran between 1982 and 1990). The monochrome cityscape is built on a simple blue baseplate, but includes a density of detail, from the bridge spanning the two halves of the city to a proliferation of landscape fragments.
To tie his build to its inspiration, Marco also included a small backdrop with brick-built lettering spelling “AKIRA” with pops of red reminiscent of Kaneda’s bike. But it’s not until you view the diorama from a higher angle that you discover Marco has also recreated the distinctive outline of the bay from the original comic, representing a screaming human head.
We first noticed Lasse Deleuran when we highlighted his MAN cement truck and Buy-N-Large semi truck. Lasse continues a strong building streak with a Japanese dekotora, or decorated truck. These spectacularly-customized trucks ply roadways and highways from Sapporo to Kagoshima, and Lasse has reproduced the bright chrome and lights of these unique vehicles with pearl-gold LEGO tiles and plenty of trans-clear 1×1 plates.
The truck is excellent, but the school girls and truck driver are noteworthy as well, built at a unique scale that lends itself to good details and articulation despite the small size (smaller than Miniland-scale). The rear of the truck is no less decorated than the front, with a huge bank of brake lights.
I was born within walking distance of Ogikubo Station in Tokyo, and by the age of ten or eleven, I was using the subway system to get around the city to take foreign tourists to see the sights, earning myself a bit of extra LEGO money. Australian LEGO Certified Professional Ryan McNaught and his team of builders spent more than two hundred hours building this complete Tokyo subway system map from 31,000 LEGO bricks, showing all thirteen lines in their distinctive colors (my favorite line is the Chuo line in orange). The mosaic measures 4.6 meters (over 15 feet) wide and 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) tall, dwarfing the rather tall bloke standing nearby.
LEGO recently released a new series of sets called Brickheadz, cute brick-built characters that seem to be the LEGO equivalent to Funko’s Pop Vinyls. And it’s no surprise that fans are responding with their own characters in this style. Tokoyo Tag Team have two couples to share the limelight. Firstly we have Shin Hayata, the lead character in the Japanese TV show Ultraman, and one of the monsters he fights, namely Gyango, who appears in an episode gloriously translated as The Rascal from Outer Space. Ultraman’s helmet has the perfect retro-futuristic vibe of a 1960’s sfi-fi television show.
Next up we have King Joe Black from the television series Ultraseven, a follow up to Ultraman. The slug-like creature next to him is Twin-Tail, a 15 kiloton prehistoric monster from the Return of Ultraman series. What a cutie!
Capturing characters in this chibi style is a great way to hone your character building skills by picking out the key features with bricks. I’m sure there will be lots more of these fan-built Brickheadz to come.
This scene by W. Navarre, while simple, hides a deeper complexity in the construction of the hut and rockwork under it, but most notably the build has great atmosphere and a unique theme. On such a small scale, using many colours can be very risky, which is why I am happy the builder only used as many as he needed to.
There is more to the build than only that seen on Navarre’s Flickr page, as he shares a few more vignettes on MOCpages, including a temple and a juice pressing structure. While it is not accompanied by a story as most of Navarre’s creations are, it leaves more to the imagination. It was built as part of The Tourney 2017 competition on MOCpages.