Tag Archives: Japan

From samurai and ninjas to giant mecha like Gundam or the beautiful films of Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese history and culture inspire LEGO builders all over the world. With contributors fluent in Japanese, The Brothers Brick also brings you coverage of the people and events in the large LEGO fan community in Japan itself.

Walking in a garden of peace

“Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.” That quote from American poet Walt Whitman perfectly describes what we see here in builder vincentkiew‘s creation.

Morning walk....

Walking through this scene must have been just as relaxing as building it. I really admire the roof work on the gazebo and the house, using various pieces to give an illusion of texture. The flower pots by the beautifully-crafted doors could not be built better.

The lily pads with flowers serve as a calm reminder to the walking wise man of the fragility of life. Perhaps this whole build reminds us all of the peace that comes to the soul when taking a solitary stroll.

Tiny cars are big in Japan

Over the years Japanese car manufacturers have produced some iconic performance cars, such as the Impreza WRX, the Datsun 240Z or the Toyota AE86. However, unsurprisingly, most of their products are of a rather more practical nature. Few more so than so-called Kei cars or keijidōsha (軽自動車). This literally means light automobile.

Daihatsu Move Canbus Kei car

They are a special class of tiny cars, restricted to a width of 1.48 m, a length of 3.4 m and a height of 2 m (4.9 ft, 11.2 ft and 6.6 ft, respectively). Their engine displacement is at most 660 cc (40 cubic inches). For comparison, this is roughly the same as the displacement of a single cylinder of, say, a V8 Ford Mustang. So, why would you want one? Well, they’re relatively cheap to buy and run and owners pay less road tax. And more importantly, in densely populates cities such as Tokyo, owners need to prove that have a parking space before they can register a car, but Kei cars are exempt. Consequently, about one in every three cars sold in Japan is a Kei car. They are exercises in maximising interior space within limited external dimensions. So they do tend to be small boxes on wheels. However, as these two examples show, some manufacturers do spend some effort on the styling.

Honda N-Box Slash Kei car

The Daihatsu Move Canbus is aimed at a very particular demographic: single women in their thirties. Fewer Japanese people are getting married and apparently this is a sizeable group. In Japan, unmarried women also often still live with their parents, so the car should be practical (with good access, through its sliding doors) and yet cute. The Honda N-Box Slash represents the edgier corner of the Kei-car universe. It’s very boxy, seats four people and has a dinky engine, but its styling is a little bit sportier, with an up-swept beltline near the rear windows and the handles for the rear doors hidden in the C-pillar. I hesitate to think what the marketeers were thinking when they came up with the names, though. I guess English names sound cool to Japanese customers, even if they make little sense.

LEGO 10281 Bonsai Tree from the Botanical Collection [Review]

LEGO has a bit of an unwarranted reputation among the general public as a medium that doesn’t lend itself easily to organic shapes. Hobbyist LEGO builders have been disabusing others of this misperception for many years by sharing LEGO builds inspired by the natural world. LEGO’s in-house designers are certainly capable of creating official LEGO sets full of flora and fauna, as LEGO designer Nicolas Vás proves with the new 10281 Bonsai Tree from the new Botanical Collection. The set includes 878 pieces and will be available on January 1st, 2021 (US $49.99 | CAN $TBD | UK £44.99).

The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

Read our hands-on review of LEGO 10281 Bonsai Tree

Automotive rebellion, the Japanese way

For a long time, I didn’t really get the point of car customization. I can understand why people might want to make some changes to improve performance. Manufacturers aim their products at a particular market segment and operate under constraints such as environmental regulations. So, if you want to use your car differently, say to tear up the drag strip, some changes make sense. Rebuilding older cars using newer components to improve comfort or handling also makes sense to me. What I didn’t get were things that make a car worse in objectively measurable ways: such as stanced wheels and ill-fitting body kits. However, after building my latest car model, I think I finally get it. It’s a Nissan Skyline C110, modified in a Japanese style popularly known as Bōsōzoku (暴走族).

Trying to distinguish between the many different specific styles covered by his name is like an obscure form of zoology. They all do share some features, though. Modifications can include multiple rear spoilers and a deppa, which is the huge front-end splitter. Externally mounted oil coolers, with lines running through the radiator or a headlight mount, are also popular. This stuff is all race-inspired, but none of it improves the car’s performance. The cars usually have large fender flares, with small wheels and negative camber, particularly on the rear wheels. This reduces the ride height to the point of scraping the road and probably ruins the handling. The cars can also have a lurid paint job, often involving purple or magenta, and oversized exhaust pipes, called takeyari, inspired by bamboo spears. It is all very much over the top. And that is the point.

Japanese society is full of rules on how to behave in order to maintain harmony or Wa (和). But more restrictive norms seem to lead to more extreme rebellion. Bōsōzoku cars aren’t about improved performance or about making the cars look pretty. They’re about being different from the norm to the point where it gets obnoxious.

Enjoy the romance of rail travel aboard the JNR 583-series limited express EMU

Introduced in 1967, the Japan National Railways 583-series of electric multiple units (EMUs) served long-distance travelers for 40 years, with the very last rolling stock finally withdrawn in 2017. Riding in these was nearly as exciting as traveling on the Shinkansen bullet trains, though certainly not as fast. Japanese builder Orient R. Minesky (also on Flickr) has recreated this iconic and historic train in LEGO, in its original dark blue and cream JNR livery, prior to privatization and breakup into regional railways in 1987. Presenting the train photographed on a cement wall from a low angle, with LEGO electric lines against a real-life background, makes it seem like the train is clattering toward you at speed.

See the detailed interior of this LEGO JNR 583-series train

Ringing up some nostalgia on this Japanese pay phone

Bright green pay phones that supported the new prepaid phone cards began replacing the old pink rotary pay phones in Japan just as my family left for the States in the late 80’s. With public telephones a rare sight today in the US, I was shocked to see that the same phones were still everywhere when I finally went home to visit last summer. nobu_tary has captured the shapes and colors of the real thing perfectly in LEGO, with a detailed black face — complete with digital readout screen and card slot — and iconic lime green body. The black panel incorporates three ammunition pouches from the Rogue One Death Trooper buildable figure, which Tary did not use in his larger, more detailed LEGO Death Trooper figure a few years ago.

Japanese Pay Phone

A bit of trivia on why pay phones are still everywhere in Japan: When a disaster such as an earthquake or typhoon strikes that affects cell phone coverage, all pay phones can be activated for free use so that people can call emergency services or even just to contact loved ones.

This lovely little green box doesn’t just take me back to my last few years in Japan, it also takes me back a year to what may be my last international trip in a long time…

Catching Scoobies on the Shutoko

As much as I like building LEGO cars, I never quite got into building contemporary car models. On a small scale it will never be possible to capture all the details. So, to make a LEGO car model recognisable, it helps for the real car to look distinctive. You can mess up a lot when building a Hummer or a Volkswagen Beetle and they will still be identifiable. Unfortunately, a lot of modern cars kind of look the same. Perhaps none more so than Japanese cars.

Last year I went to Japan BrickFest. If the COVID-19 pandemic won’t prevent it, I hope to go again next year. With that in mind, I’ve been building more and more Japanese cars. So far I’ve managed to build a fair few recognisable ones, including an ambulance and a rather wacky-looking courier van. I’m still looking for more distinctive examples, though. My most recent Japanese cars are the Toyota Crown and a Subaru Impreza WRX.

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The typical Tokyo taxi is a Toyota

New Dehli had the Hindustan Ambassador, London the FX4 and New York the Checker Marathon and the Ford Crown Victoria. All of these taxis became instantly recognizable icons for their respective cities. What about Tokyo, you may wonder? On a visit Japan, you will occasionally see modern MPV-like vehicles, but the typical Tokyo taxi is a boxy contraption called the Toyota Comfort. They seem to be everywhere. I must have taken about ten taxi rides during my own trips to Japan and I’m pretty sure all of those were in a Toyota Comfort.

Toyota started building them specifically for use as taxis for a whopping 22 years, starting in 1995. You may expect them to be high tech, but these cars are actually fairly basic. A particularly Japanese exception is that the driver can open and shut the rear doors at the push of a button, from behind the wheel. The doors are an important part of the build, of course. On most of my LEGO cars, the rear doors cannot open without the front doors being opened first. However, I wanted this particular model to look good with the rear doors opened. They are attached to a little arm that slides in and out and I have added appropriate window frames. I also added a “Kawaii” passenger. The Comfort may not be as iconic as London black cab, but my collection of Japanese cars would be incomplete without one.

Juxtaposition in Japan

It’s a bit of a cliché, undoubtedly, but Japan is a land full of contrasts. Last year I was lucky enough to travel to Japan in order to attend Japan BrickFest. It’s a two-day LEGO exhibition that takes place on Rokko Island, an artificial island in Osaka bay, off the coast of Kobe.

Read more about Ralph’s LEGO adventures in Japan

LEGO Architecture 21051 Tokyo skyline takes us to Tokyo Tower, Shibuya, Mt. Fuji, and more [Review]

It’s not often that a LEGO set transports me back home. But regular readers of The Brothers Brick know that I was born in Tokyo and lived in Japan until I was a teenager, so I was incredibly excited when LEGO announced 21050 Tokyo. I’ve enjoyed each of the previous LEGO Architecture skyline sets I’ve built, but how does this one stack up for someone who calls Tokyo their hometown?

Tokyo was revealed as part of the LEGO Architecture skyline series for 2020, alongside 21052 Dubai. Tokyo is built from 547 pieces and will retail for $59.99 USD | $79.99 CAD | £59.99 GBP. Both sets will be available starting January 1st.

Read our hands-on review of LEGO Architecture 21051 Tokyo skyline

Take a trip to Japan and the United Arab Emirates with the new LEGO Architecture 2020 sets [News]

If you’re not a fan of stage performances, but still want to go on a world tour, the new LEGO Architecture sets may find themselves on your 2020 shopping list. Two new sets, 21051 Tokyo Skyline and 21052 Dubai Skyline have just been revealed by Polish retailer Remix Kaja. It’s not the first theme’s visit to the United Arab Emirates, as 2016 saw 21031 Burj Khalifa set. This time, the tallest skyscraper in the world is surrounded by a number of other world-famous buildings. Unlike Dubai, this is the first appearance of the Tokyo landmarks in the LEGO theme. Naturally, the Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji are here along with other Japanese symbols — both architectural and natural. We expect both sets to be available in stores early January 2020.

Don’t miss the rest of the LEGO lineup for 2020:

Click to check out all the new LEGO Architecture sets

Two will battle, only one shall return

Sometimes simplicity tells a great tale — a lone Japanese temple with a wide vast landscape with a battle in the snow, perhaps for the freedom of a prisoner of war. The 3×4 modified tile that comes with as the character stand in the collectible minifigures series, somewhat less commonly found in builds, is put to good use as the roof design for this lovely scene by Brickr. The toribusuma, which is the curved part at the edges of the roof, reminds us of a time when sometimes the only way to bring honour to the family is through “harakiri” sacrificial death.

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