When I was a kid, a type of model race car zoomed into the market and won over the hearts of kids and adults alike. Tamiya, long known as Japan's premier hobby company, started to offer model racing cars that were easy enough for 10 year olds to build, but with enough customization options to make them suitable for the most expert hobbyist. The concept was simple enough: standardize a chassis, motor, and wheel size and offer countless options for the body type, gears, motors, and tires. The "4WD racers" were popular for years back in the nineties, but fell by the wayside when other pastimes (namely, home gaming consoles) started to become more ubiquitous. However, imagine my surprise when I strolled into a BIC Camera and encountered a wall of all of my favorite cars from my childhood plus a range of brand new options.
What excites me about these models, and why I recommend them to travelers, is that they make awesome souvenirs and gifts. At only 500-1000 yen for the car and about 100-300 yen for a motor, you can give someone hours of fun, both in the building process as well as the racing. Also, its fun to enjoy the "Japlish" (Japanese + English) names like the "Big Bang Ghost," "God Burning Sun," or the "Brocken Gigant."
So here are the steps for enjoying these neat Tamiya models:
Step 1: Pick a Body Type
There are so many options to choose from that sometimes picking one out can be rather difficult. The good thing about these models is that one body type does not have a particular advantage over another--they are all based off of the same basic design. The most important thing is picking the one that best matches your aesthetic sensibilities!
Step 2: Select Your Custom Parts
The wall of custom parts can be a little daunting for first time builders, but it gives you a picture of how in-depth you can get with this hobby. The model kit itself comes with all of the basic parts, so if you do not feel like diving into all of the custom options, the only thing you HAVE to buy is a motor. The side of the box tells you the motor number to look for--from there it's just matching the numbers. If you do decide to customize, you can select everything from different screws and fasteners to unique axles and gears.
Step 3: Construct the Model
For me, the construction portion has always been the most fun and satisfying. There's something pretty neat about being able to take a bunch of pieces and turn it into a fully functioning race car. For those of you who do not read Japanese, fear not--the instructions are bilingual! All of the construction is snap together, so no glue required. Be aware that you will need a philips head screwdriver and something to cut the pieces from the kit, but other than that, it's a painless process (as I mentioned before, it's easy enough for a ten-year old to do it).