Culture is everything around you. It’s the food you eat, the language you speak and the clothes you wear. It’s what you drive, what you listen to, watch and write. In many ways “culture” is single word that can tie a huge and disparate number of individual items and traditions together in a whole that can be as shared, or as unique, as its definition. There are tonnes of different ‘cultures’ within a culture, too. We, as modellers, are very aware, I’m sure, that modelling is its own subculture, and you can break a culture down as finely as you want, only really being able to stop at the individual level.
Still as unique as culture is, it is also something shared by a large number of people, and holidays and celebrations are a great way to get a feel or a culture’s history and its particular world view. If you’re not part of that culture, though, sometimes the celebrations and festivities can seem very, very alien. For, like food, the celebrations of a given culture or cultural group are usually quite unique; you only get them if you’re “in” the group. On the other hand, there are some subcultures that can be found all across the world, despite all the other difference between peoples.
One example of a global subculture is that one dealing with cars. Sure, the Europeans invented the car in the 1880s, and it was America with its vast resources and Henry Ford’s moving assembly line that proved it could be a mass-produced consumer good, but that hasn’t stopped its adoption by nearly every culture on the planet. A “car guy” from Ohio might have different tastes than a “car guy” from Tokyo, or Delhi or Tel Aviv; at their core, however, they really are the same. They’re enthusiastic about cars of some sort, and that’s a shared bond.
However, what happens when you combine the globally pervasive automotive subculture and some of the more localized, traditional cultural influences? Well… it can be hard to say. Anything COULD happen. As if to prove this, Aoshima has produced what might be the single most Japan-centric, culturally specific automotive model kit I have ever seen. This bizarre contraption goes by a couple of names, including Aoshima 1/24 Selling Car Omatsuri-Wasshoi Plastic Model. However, that’s a lot to say, so from now on, I’m just going to refer to it as the “Matsuri Van” or “MV” for short.
I picked up this incredibly different and, to many Western eyes, nearly inconceivable, model kit at the HeritageCon 14 show in Hamilton at the end of March, 2022. At the time, it was a snap decision. It was too weird not to buy, and even though I only sort of understood what it was, it ended up in my HeritageCon 2022 Haul. Not surprisingly, it won the poll I posted by a significant margin, and so now we can all bask in its glory!
As you can likely guess by the number of Gundam and other such kits I build, I am an anime fan. Because anime is largely produced for the Japanese audience first and foremost, there are a lot of cultural references in there that non-Japanese people don’t necessarily get. However, even if I’m not an expert on Japanese culture and haven’t spent years studying the history and customs of Japan’s many and varied regions, I have seen enough anime to recognize certain symbols. For example: Coloured lanterns, massive old-school artworks and a dude banging a big Taiko drum on a raised wooden platform usually only spell out one thing: FESTIVAL!
The word for festival in Japanese in Matsuri, and that’s why I called this thing the “Matsuri Van”. When you look at the box, you can immediately see how I got to that conclusion… The box on this thing is big, and oddly, it’s taller than it is wide. Usually model boxes are “landscape” orientation, but this one is “portrait”, and then some!
This may be the most crazy, energetic box I have ever seen, on any model kit from any company. The vast amount of movement on the box is insane, even though nothing is actually in motion! There are so many different fonts, and so many of the words are angled, or cartoony, or wavy, or some combination of those, that the effect is overwhelming. When you can’t read any of it, it only adds to the chaos and feeling of alienation and exoticism. I mean, I can’t tell from all this if it’s a model kit, a cereal box, instant ramen or an intimacy aid. It could be all of the above, for all I can translate from the box! This kit really doesn’t seem like it was made with Western audiences or export in mind!
The zaniness starts right at the top, with a big yellow word that looks like it’s on Tomica wheels! My phone can’t translate it, but it may have something to do with “selling truck” or something, since I know there are a lot of these kits furnished as food and vending trucks. The bottom of the box sees more different fonts in red on while, green and red outlined on white and grey. The same issues with translation dogged me here, so again, I’ve got no idea what this means. But then again, I don’t have to.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this box art may as well be War and Peace. There’s a LOT going on here but at the heart of it all is a most-overloaded seventh-gen Suzuki Carry. This is a popular and long-lived Kei-class truck, this particular version dating from somewhere between 1979 and 1985. I could go into details about the Carry, and it’s many offspring, but this kit really isn’t about the Carry. It’s about what the Carry is carrying. And man… has it got a lot of junk in, on, around and over the trunk, so to speak!
This particularly overloaded example of Suzuki’s little hauler is the physical embodiment of an entire festival parade! With a traditional fan strapped to the grille, and with sides flanked by lanterns and traditional artwork, this particular Carry is bringing an entire festival with it on its diminutive 6’ wheelbase. Since the real thing would only likely have a 543cc engine, you can guess how overworked the powerplant would be! To convey the festival spirit, the truck is not only adorned with traditional artwork on the three sides of the box, but it is sporting loudspeakers on all four corners, as well as many hanging lanterns and festival pennants. But, why?
Firstly, I am getting this info from the Internet, so I hope it’s right. I would encourage anyone who wants to know more to dig deeper into it. However, while trying to figure out what this little Matsuri Van is all about, I did some research and this is what I found: It seems that this van is done up like the floats in the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, which is a festival taking place in August in the Aomori district. This famous festival includes many large floats of warriors, ancient gods and legendary beings, as well as dancers. The word “Nebuta” seems to relate to the lanterns themselves, as this is what they are called, and thus the MV has a LOT of lanterns on it to convey its part in this ritual.
Drumming on traditional Taiko drums is a big part of many festivals, hence the inclusion of the Carry’s rooftop dais complete with a stalwart drummer. A big part of many festivals is apparently the “moving about” of the local deity; the statue or other representation of the deity is put into a smaller, mobile shrine that is then carried around. This is called a “Mikoshi”, and it’s a Shinto religious palanquin. I believe that’s what the roof on the Carry’s roof is supposed to represent.
Also present on both the Carry’s doors and all over the box is a symbol that looks like three commas arranged in a circle. I recognized this from many animes, and it’s called a mitsudomoe, or mitsu-tomoe; the comma shape being a “Tomoe” and “mitsu” meaning three. There’s a veritable universe of info on what the symbol means, its heritage and so forth, and I got lost in it all. The Coles’ Notes, though, is that it is an ancient symbol of strength and power, also a good luck talisman, and a representation of the endless flow of matter, energy and the soul. I think. It’s like the Yin/Yang symbol, but with more parts. It’s not a surprise to see it related to a festival where there are floats of warriors, since it was often adopted by Samurai as a household crest.
So, what we’ve got is essentially a tiny truck that is literally awash in every possible symbol of the Nebuta festival. This thing would be like having a Macy’s parade float that had Santa, the elves and the pilgrims sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner while angels sang overhead, and Mary, Joseph and Jesus were off to one side in the manger, while the Magi approached from the other side with camels pulling Santa’s sled full of presents. In the background would be a giant TV showing football. Now put that all in the back of an F-150 blaring KISS through open windows. In other words, it’s literally everything. At once.
So, does that make it any less crazy when you see the box? Maybe. No… not really. Knowing it’s that busy and that crammed full of seasonal symbolism only makes it that much more bonkers, really. When you consider all this is on a truck that fits inside the wheelbase of a Third Gen Trans Am, it’s even more impressive! Thus, the Matsuri Van is a symbol of tradition, as well as the ability of society to adapt those traditions to modern ways of thinking.
The one side of the box is useless, the other has a couple of good shots from the front and rear three-quarters of a Matsuri van all built-up. It’s amazing, but the real thing doesn’t give up anything to the cartoonish box art. The amazing busy-ness and top-heaviness is conveyed excellently by the finished kit, and the artwork does appear to be included This is shown beside the two views of the MV, and it appears that there are two separate decal sheets. One is for the checkerboard pattern, banners and various signage. The other is for the large artworks that adorn the van’s three rear sides. When I saw these depicted on the box, I felt a bit better; trying to print my own decals of these murals would be very tough, so having them included made me feel good about my purchase.
Despite the unbounded energy and festival spirit displayed by the box, the actual kit seems pretty… tame, I guess. There are two black sprues, one grey sprue for the oh-so-industrial steel wheels, two clear sprues and the Carry truck, which has the cab and box moulded together. There’s also one white sprue, which is much larger than the others. This is the “Matsuri sprue”, and this is where nearly all the festival parts are found, except the lanterns, which are moulded in clear. There are also four VERY SMALL tires in a separate bag. (They’re about the same diameter as the 1/32 1910 Buick’s tires…. Wow!)
Like all Japanese car kits, the sprues are well separated and come bagged separately or in small groups. The glass racks are packaged separately from each other, although both black sprues are together. The body shell of the Carry is in a separate bag.
I must admit that I’m almost never as impressed with Japanese car kits as I am with American, or European, models. The Japanese kits generally don’t have the same level of detail in them as the others; they’re simple, usually curb-sider kits that have simplified suspensions, no engine and simple interiors. A couple of exceptions that prove the rule are the Tamiya Sierra XR4i and the Tamiya Volvo 850 Turbo Estate. The point of most Japanese car kits is to create a good “desktop” model of a subject, and since almost no one ever looks at the interior or lifts a car kit up anyway, then this is a fair approach. I still prefer my MPCs and their multi-piece engines, nice interiors and admittedly trickier assembly, but I’m not averse to a simple build sometimes, and the subjects are usually interesting and different. Besides, when it comes to something as bonkers as the Matsuri Van, beggars can’t be choosers.
The first thing that hit me upon really handling the parts was that the Carry is TINY. I checked to make sure this was 1/24, no 1/32; no, I was right the first time. The frightening thing is that this little guy is the same size as a 1/32 ’79 Bronco! It looks positively teeny in comparison to a Third Gen T/A and even looks puny when put beside a 1985 Fiero GT! Man… the Japanese ability to make compact vehicles is incredible! This body shell is very crisply rendered, with no real flash (an MPC “extra” I can always live without). There’s some roughness to the bottom edge of the shell that’ll need cleaning up, and there are some nicks and scratches on the box’s roof that could be bad if this were being built as a straight truck, but you won’t see it with the Taiko dais up on the roof anyway.
The chassis is very simple, with very little detail. There’s a tiny bit of detail for the mid-engine (!) but it’s a bit of embossing, that’s all. Aoshimas are not as good at this as Tamiyas, and something like the “semi engine” on the Tamiya Civic is far and away too much to expect here. The front wheels appear to be steerable, but the suspension (if you can call it that) is not detailed at all, and is more functional than realistic, I’m sure. It’s no Sierra suspension, let me tell you! The interior is likewise; very basic and with very little detail on either the seats or the dashboard. There’s a weird piece that is supposed to go into the box; and I think this is meant for the mobile Ramen shop version of this kit. It’s of moderately-low detail anyway, and it won’t show when you put the decals on the sides. I’d test fit it first, to see if you even need to put it in!
Since I’m sure that the real Carry would be as cheap, nasty and Spartan as possible, given its expected life and duties, I don’ feel like there’s a lot that I’m missing. There is a piece of sandpaper included, too. At first, I thought it was to be cut into the shape of the carpet in the cab, but nope… it’s just there for sanding, I guess. That’s a weird inclusion, but after seeing this box, nothing’s surprising me now! The glass all looks good and there are panels for the side and rear openings on the Carry’s box. These aren’t used here, apparently, but more on that later. The lanterns look cool, but being moulded in halves may make assembly tricky. I thought that keeping them clear and painting them with clear colours would look cool, but I fear the seams will be far too visible for that.
As for he Matsuri sprue, it’s pretty wild. Some parts don’t impress me; the vertical posts for the dais are featureless and have injection pin marks that will require either sanding or filling and sanding. That sucks. The loudspeakers are also kind of a letdown. However, the dais itself, as well as the Taiko drum and the “Mikoshi Roof” have nice woodgrain detail and a wash should help them tremendously. The fabric on the banners is also moulded beautifully, with some flap and sag built in I am worried about the drum, though; getting that sanded and painted successfully looks like it will be tough.
Instructions and Decals:
Because the kit is quite simple, the instructions aren’t overly complex either. There’s nothing particularly unclear about them, although they can be a bit self-inconsistent. A perfect example is that they show the box-side stickers going on in Step 14, but then show the loudspeakers and other parts going on with the holes in the box still showing. I guess it’s for clarity, but it’s jarring. More seriously wrong, though is that they show the lanterns going onto the truck’s side in Step 10, but then the decals, that cover the entire side of the truck, go on in Step 14, where the lanterns aren’t shown. That’s a bad and misleading mistake that could really turn into a tragedy later.
So, while they’re big and clearly drawn, I think these instructions should really be thoroughly studied before working on the kit. Make notes, and get ready for some changes in order. This seems to be a common theme with Aoshima’s car kits, as I’ve noticed it on others I have. There’s also less English on the instructions that many Tamiya kits, and it would have been nice to have had a bit of guidance as to colours other than just a colour number call-out.
As for the decals, I did mention there are two sheets. One is a blue-backed, traditional waterslide sheet. This has all the decorations on it, including the characters for the lanterns, flags and fan. Here’s hoping Aoshima’s deals are very thin and conform very well. They have a lot to go over! They look good, and they are in excellent register. They’re very colourful, and the gold is even shiny. There’s also next-to-no carrier film (unlike the decals on the Hasegawa T-1A) so trimming them might not prove to be too arduous.
The three panels for the Carry’s box are done as traditional stickers, meaning they’re self-adhesive, paper-based stickers, rather than waterslide decals. This may seem to be an advantage, since they’ll be thicker and survive going over the big gaps in the box. However, I am not so sure. I’m thinking that it might be better to put in the windows and sand them smooth, or else create new plates for the sides and back of the box using thin sheet styrene. The holes for the lanterns, loudspeakers and ladders would have to be transferred, but it might prove a more rigid solution. I’d also recommend scanning the stickers in case you mess up. At least then you can reprint them and either glue them on like any other paper product or you can make them into decals.
The paper stickers look great, but I’m not convinced they’re the solution that Aoshima should have gone with.
The Aoshima Suzuki Carry kit is not a very complex or impressive kit, and indeed the vehicle itself is no titan of the tarmac. With a very small, boxy silhouette, the little Kei-class truck isn’t going to stick out on a shelf once it’s built. That is, if it was a straight-up stock Carry. This, however, is far from it.
Once you take Aoshima’s little, unassuming Rubik’s-Cube-on-Wheels and literally stick, pile and jam every possible matsuri symbol, do-dad and thing-a-macallit on it, it really takes on a whole new life. The Matsuri Van is the Superman to the Carry’s Clark Kent. It goes from unassuming to wearing it’s underoos on the outside, and flying around to show them off! This model looks like a travel agent’s brochure exploded and landed in a pile on an unsuspecting cube van, and believe me, the Carry, and we as builders, are better for it!
As a kit, the Matsuri Van doesn’t look like it will be too tough to build. The Spartan interior and complete lack of engine and suspension make it a minimal challenge on the assembly front, as far as the vehicle goes. However, as you can tell, it’s not the Carry that’s the focus here, it’s the stuff on it that counts! There’s a lot of interesting opportunity here for using shading and washes, pastels and other methods to really bring the wooden superstructure, the taiko drum and the drummer to life. There are decals-a-plenty and the big side stickers should prove an interesting challenge.
Overall, I’d say that almost anyone can build this kit, but building it well is going to take some skill. There’s so much going on, and so much of it is not car-like at all. Other skills from other types of modelling are really required here. Diorama skills (for this model is more a rolling diorama than an actual truck) and figure painting skills will both come in handy, and working around the potential for the big decals to be destroyed will require tools, experience and materials.
The good thing is that this kit looks like a friggin’ blast to make! If you can’t get to Japan, and you really want to partake in one of that country’s iconic festivals, then building this little crazy contraption is the next best thing! Not only that, but you can use it as chance to not only improve some skills you might not always use, but as an impetus to find out more about Japanese festivals and culture. Hey, research is part of the fun of modelling, right, and as a cultural ambassador, you won’t find many models as engaging or inspiring as the Matsuri Van.
It’s an entire parade that will fit in the palm of your hand when it’s done. It’s flashy, gaudy, overdone and self-referential. It’s excess shrunken to a manageable size. It’s a souvenir you don’t have to leave home to get; this mighty little truck brings it all to you. How cool is that? You know how cool it is. Now go get one! Wasshoi!!!