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.
The balance of LEGO Technic and System parts in this ornate shogun design by Mohamed Marei shows some excellent prowess with the brick. Each piece seems to be specifically chosen to replicate the plated nature of ancient Japanese armor. The use of tread pieces here (large and small) is divine, both around the arms above the elbows and as the base of the warrior’s kusazuri (the plates draping over his thighs). And Mohamed has used nearly every type of gold 1×1 round plate in this build. There’s even one that isn’t actually a part, but a sprue for Ninjago weapons. It’s an ingenious choice, adding even more variety to the fairly monochromatic armor.
And I haven’t even started talking about my favorite part of the build: the kabuto, or helmet. If you haven’t been able to tell from my previous posts on here, I’m a sucker for a great brick-built face. And this mask, with the intricate details around the eyes and mouth, is truly exceptional! On the sides of the kabuto, you’ll find what has to be the best parts usage in the whole build. Those curves are made by an upside-down fairing from this Chima Speedorz set. You can better see how the part’s used in the side-view below.
This soba noodle bowl looks so good it’s hard to believe it’s made of LEGO! This creation comes from builder John Snyder for the annual LEGO contest RogueOlympics hosted by Roguebricks. John started with an idea for how to build the radish slices, and the rest came together from there. Bicycle wheels inserted into inverted radar dishes comprise the bright radish slices. Arm pieces from the LEGO Friends toy line make up soba noodles, which is a pretty cool use of parts I haven’t seen before. Even the chopsticks are brick-built! Of course, part of what makes well-crafted food look so good is the plating, and John doesn’t disappoint. The color balancing stands out, allowing the eye to pass over each part of the soup in a wonderful flowing movement. I don’t know about you, but now I’m hungry!
LEGO builder Mingki_5729 has built this classic enemy grunt unit, featured across multiple Mobile Suit Gundam series. The chunky rounded form of the Zaku is accurately recreated in this build, from the wide calves to its broad shoulders. The model also looks to be poseable thanks to ball and socket joints. That sand green horn which looks perfect on the shoulder is fairly rare, having currently only appeared in four sets in that particular colour. Fun fact, the design of the actual Zaku took inspiration from a standard business suit—it’s amazing where designers get their ideas from!
Recreating Japanese architect Keisha Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo’s Shimbashi neighborhood, Stefan Formentano has created a LEGO version of this iconic structure. While the capsules are similar in design, Stefan has added unique details to the individual living spaces, such as clothes hanging out to dry and signs of aging on the exterior. The lettering at the top of the tower is excellently portrayed and barely even looks like LEGO. At the bottom of the tower there appears to be a shady deal going on while peculiar characters roam the street. The stacked construction of the building is also oddly reminiscent of the LEGO House in Billund. This model is perfectly suited for a cyberpunk display while suggesting congested living conditions for the inhabitants of a futuristic city.
I’m watching the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics right now feeling nostalgic both for my hometown and for my trip back to Japan two summers ago before the pandemic, when I spent several days in Kyoto as well as Tokyo, Matsumoto, and Kobe. Just south of Kyoto stands Mount Kōya, where Kōbō Daishi (Kūkai) founded the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism in the 9th century. My father became good friends with the head monk of Kōya-san during our time in Japan, and the temples and pathways there hold a special place in my family’s hearts. Inspired by the Japanese manga Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara, LEGO builder Ted Andes has captured a Buddhist pilgrim pausing at a Shinto shrine in the Okunoin graveyard where Kōbō Daishi is buried.
What’s truly wonderful about this scene is that it captures the unique Buddhist-Shinto syncretism that permeates Japanese spirituality, wherein Shinto (literally the “Way of the Gods”) beliefs are practices alongside Buddhism brought from China. In Ted’s LEGO scene, a shrine to a local Shinto deity and the god’s sacred stone — complete with a straw rope with lightning-bolt paper — stand amidst Buddhist graves on a sacred Buddhist mountainside. Well-researched, gorgeously detailed scenes like this are a welcome contrast from the generically “Asian” scenes far too many western builders toss together for build challenges and contests.
As part of the same Summer Joust contest, Ted also shared this atmospheric scene inspired by the same Manga. The same pilgrim from the scene above walks through a bamboo grove at night as ghost tendrils and a spectral hand threaten our protagonist. Rather than relying on LEGO’s bright green bamboo pieces, Ted has recreated the tall stalks using dark tan candles, with just a few leaves entering the frame near the top. This sort of scene is exactly why little kids like me growing up in Japan were afraid of bamboo groves at night!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.