It’s funny that for a place like Tokyo, where space is in short supply, static ‘plamodels’ are still immensely popular. The hobby’s following is in fact so large there that in one area which is less than one square kilometer in diameter, you can find more shops than in some entire countries or US states. Not to mention that the choice of model kits is amazingly broad. But having to define the ‘plamodel shopping world’ in Tokyo is a bit tricky. In short, model kits in Japan are both cheap and expensive at the same time.
As you’d expect, kits from domestic Japanese manufacturers are cheap. Fantasy and armor kits are priced tremendously low and even more so are the automotive subjects. Aircraft kits are also still cheaper than other places around the world, although this difference seems less outspoken. Sadly anything that comes from outside Japan (even from nearby China or Korea) will likely be more expensive than where you live.
Finally, while you are able to get a tax reduction in some shops when you buy over roughly 5000yen, most shops will price their products without tax. As such you need to add in an additional 8% (10% since October 2018) to the marked price in most cases.
Before we start,
how do you get around?
The best way to move about Tokyo is to use the train/subway system. It is quite cheap if you stay on the main lines and you can get pretty much anywhere rather quickly. Just make sure you know wether the type of train you’re on stops at the station you want to be at and doesn’t take forever to get there (express, semi-express, local, etc).
You can also use one of the thousands of taxi cabs if you don’t want to deal with the train and figuring out how to get there, but these are generally very expensive!
Shops to visit
in order of interest
Below are a range of shops I was able to visit during my travels to the Kanto (Tokyo) area, before eventually moving there. they are ranked in order of interest to me, taking in account price, range of items, address, closeness to other shops, accessibility and ‘wow-factor’.
Note from editor:
As of February 2021, I have moved Leonardo shop 1 from position 2 to 5 for reasons noted below, while lowering shop 2 to position 3.
1. Yellow Submarine (Radio Kaikan)
5th floor, Super Building, 1 Chome-15 Sotokanda,
Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 101-0021
Yellow submarine is a chain of stores which you can find all over Japan. This particular shop in the ‘Radio Kaikan’ building is without a doubt my favorite ‘plamodel’ place to visit in Tokyo (or maybe even the whole world). Because it is based in Akihabara where you will find most shops on this list, you will have to plow through a horde of anime lovers and search for the correct building. A mission which is not easy in a lit up street that would overdose the faint hearted. It is totally doable given its proximity near Akihabara station and definitely worth it for the shop’s product range.
How much is it worth it? Well every time I go to Tokyo I will visit this shop multiple times. Every day that I’m not here I crave to go back, as the stock seems to update every few days. The choice is large and you can find anything here from the newest car and aviation kits to a broad range of fantasy kits. You can also find a selection of books, magazines, decals, after market items and so on. It also features a display with build models of the most recent model kit releases.
There is also a small bargain corner that I only found after my seventh(!) visit to the shop, so make sure you get a good look around to avoid missing anything.
If you plan on buying a lot of things, you can also go to the Volks Hobby Square shop on the 8th floor, where you can get a tax free discount on a larger order if you go over roughly ¥6000 (something which this yellow submarine doesn’t offer).
Side note: keep in mind that most of the other Yellow Submarines do NOT stock model kits but focus on fantasy card games instead, so it is important you go to the correct shops who do stock models.
2. Volks Hobby Square Akihabara (Radio Kaikan)
8th floor, Super Building, 1 Chome-15 Sotokanda,
Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 101-0021
A few floors above the Yellow Submarine shop you can also find the Volks Hobby Square, which is part of the Zoukei Mura company. While it isn’t the largest shop, it does offer a few interesting things.
First of all, this shops stocks A LOT of tools and materials for the expert scale modeller. It also offers nearly ALL the after market material which ZM releases for their kits. It is also the most impressive shop to visit in terms of viewing showcased models.
While the kit range it stocks might be a little less impressive than that of Yellow Submarine a few floors below, it is still worth checking it out. If you buy over roughly ¥6000 yen you can use a tourists a tax discount, which is something the other model shops don’t seem to offer. You do have to provide a valid non-Japanese passport for this option however.
3. Leonardo LG 2
2: 6 Chome-14 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku,
Tōkyō-to 101-0021 (roughly)
Leonardo are a twin set of shops who offer a large range of second hand kits and books. It is therefore a good place to visit if you are looking for older or rarer items, some of which you might have never even seen before, though the prices can sometimes reflect this. The second shop can be easy to miss, so be sure to look out for the sign as seen on the picture below. It is also found on the same corner as the TamTam store noted below.
The reason why this place isn’t higher is because of the pricing. Although most if not all kits are second hand, the prices aren’t much lower than those of brand new kits and are sometimes even priced as as a collectable rather than a kit to build.
Despite the weird pricing it is still a must visit shop, as you’ll find things here you won’t find anywhere else (f.e. I for one found a 30-40 year old 1/16 Nitto Honda Civic kit here). For your ease however, either make sure to bring stone cold cash. The pin machine has a will of its own at times.
Additionally, if your credit card only works via a pin number with chip payments, state the following: “Watashi no cado wa, ansho bango shee-te imas”. While it is incorrect Japanese, they will understand what you need.
4. Tamiya Plamodel Factory (Shimbashi)
Shimbashi 4-7-2, 105-0004 Tokyo
The Plamodel factory is basically what we as foreigners know as the ‘Tamiya shop in Tokyo’. Although you will only find Tamiya kits here and an occasional Italeri kit, it is worth a visit if you find yourself near the ‘Imperial Palace East Gardens’ in the centre of Tokyo. The most interesting part of this shop is that you have the option of buying certain spare parts or spare decal sheets of select Tamiya kits, though this choice is rather limited. This of course comes in very handy if you are looking for spare parts for your car or armor kits. If you stay for a longer period of time you can even try to custom order kit sprues or spare parts you need. If you plan to do so, then be sure you know the kit and sprue number part you want before coming here though!
On the flipside, prices here are not as low as one would expect. Despite that this is an official Tamiya shop, prices are still pretty much the same as any other model shop in Tokyo. While you also won’t find every Tamiya kit ever produced, you will most likely find most of the kits produced in the last decade. If you are looking for a particular (newer) Tamiya kit or detail up set, this is the place to be.
5. Leonardo LG 1
LG 1: Ueno 3-3-4, JTT Building, 110-0005 Tokyo
Leonardo LG 1 is the second Leonardo shop on this list. While with LG2 is pretty hard to spot the entrance, there is no such problem with LG1, which sports several giant cardboard boxes outside with spare frames and ‘discounted model kits’.
Despite that all kits are second hand, most kits are in very good condition. This does not exclude however that there are some heavily worn boxes, and sadly this doesn’t always reflect in their pricing.
As one of my Japanese friends told me “It is a place that attempts to exploit the feelings of the buyer’s nostalgia rather than offer you cheap kits”. This is reaffirmed by the fact that inside the shops there will be a constant ‘soundtrack of the 80’s’ blasting through the radio. If you are hoping to find some older kits and are willing to pay premium prices, this is a shop worth visiting. But if you want to find cheap Japanese kits, the other shops on this list are far more interesting to visit.
Additionally, something I have noticed since moving here is that the costumer service given to foreigners does not seem to reflect to the service given to Japanese costumers, even if the former has no problem navigating the language.
Since this list is mostly directed at tourists and I consider customer service very important, I have lowered their position accordingly as of February 2021.
6. TamTam Hobby shop
〒101-0021 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku,
Sotokanda, 6 Chome−14−2
If you find yourself in Akihabara, walking from Leonardo LG 1 to LG 2, make sure you look up when you’re crossing the large junction on the way there. You might see the TamTam hobby shop sign light up into your face (quite literally if you are there around noon or at night).
The TamTam Hobby shop takes up two floors. One of them offers a selection of model kits and tools which are definitely worth a look. Other hobby items here consist of train models, BB guns and RC models. If you are looking for a brand new kit you were hoping to find in Japan, which for some weird reason Yellow Submarine didn’t stock (yet), this is an alternative to check out (f.e. I was lucky to find the exclusive Japanese Market Meng 1/48 F-35A here). While TamTam has a very interesting range of items, especially when it comes to cars, it is sadly not the cheapest shop in the list and therefore only comes in fifth for me.
1 Chome-44-5 Tomigaya Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Much like the ‘nearby’ Meji Shrine in Shibuya, Dora is a shop you want to visit for ‘that Japanese feeling’, as it is without a doubt the most ‘Japanese-ish’ model shop I’ve visited during my travels. It is also one of (if not THE) oldest scale model shop in Tokyo which still exists, dating back at least to the late 70’s.
You can not walk around in this shop, you just enter a small space which is no bigger than your bathroom at home and is stacked to the ceiling with kits. The elderly shop owner was unable to speak English, but she was extremely attentive and even in my stupid sounding ‘English with a Japanese accent‘ (or the other way around) she was able to understand pretty much everything I was trying to say. Even though I only bought some decal sheets here it was a great experience to have and a shop I hope to visit again.
8. Yodobashi Camera (Multimedia Akiba Store)
〒101-0028 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku, Kanda Hanaokachō,
(please note that this address seems to confuse Google maps,
I advise readers to use the embedded map below)
Yodobashi Camera is something you can compare to Target in the US or Media Markt in Europe. Basically it is a HUGE 10 floor shopping complex which stocks an even HUGER choice of electronics, clothing, bicycles, toys and yes, even model kits.
Their range mostly consists of Japanese brands and also some decal sets. In the back you can also find bigger and more expensive kits which are displayed inside glass cabinets.
While you most likely won’t find any kits here you wouldn’t find anywhere else, it is a good place to go with the spouse or kids without them asking “when are we going to leave already?” And while I haven’t tried this, you should be able to get a tax discount here if you go over standard tax free price (roughly ¥6000).
9. Yamanaka Mokei (Yamanaka Models)
1 Chome-25-1 Akabane, Kita,
Tokyo 115-0045, Japan
While still in the Tokyo prefecture, this shop is probably the furthest away from all the others on this list while not leaving the Tokyo prefecture (which is why it ranks rather low). It is however a decent place to stop by if you find yourself close, and offers a selection of interesting restaurants on route from the nearest train station. The shop consists of two floors. The lower stocks scale model kits, while the upper floor holds other stuff like trains and BB-guns.
There are two things that make this shop interesting. First is that it has several bargain corners (one for cars, one for aircraft, etc) of which some kits are actual bargains. Just bware that some of these kits have old decals or miss parts, which will be marked on the box in Japanese. Although some kits are just old stock, it is in your own interest to ask for more information at the counter, where they will gladly assist you.
In the end though it is an interesting shop to visit, as I managed to find some kits here that I wasn’t able to find anywhere else (f.e. some of the rarer Finemolds Ghibli kits). Again here you can pay by card, but it isn’t a bad option to bring some cash as the machine doesn’t always seem to work.
10. Tamiya Plamodel Factory (Tressa Yokohama)
700 Morookachō, Kōhoku-ku, Yokohama-shi,
Kanagawa-ken 222-0002, Japan
Located in: TRESSA YOKOHAMA
Much like the Plamodel Factory found in Shimbashi this is a model store which focusses on the Tamiya brand. The range is much smaller than the other Plamodel shop and based in Yokohama prefecture, which naturally means it is outside the prefecture of Tokyo. It is also a roughly 30-minute walk from the closest train/subway station (Tsunashima station), but in doing the walk you get a window of the Kanto area in a less touristy region.
What helps is that it is based inside a giant mall which offers an abudance of other shops and food stands. As with Yodobashi Camera this means your family won’t be bored as you browse the store. Also cool to see is the space where you can build and paint your own models, research your subject on the computer and even keep store some of your unbuild boxes. Yes that’s right, you can actually leave your kits here solidly knowing they will still be there when you come back, this is Japan after all.
Side note: The nearby Book-off Super Bazaar
What makes this plamodel factory a bit more interesting to visit is that you can hop into the nearby Book-off Super Bazaar a few blocks away.
3 Chome-12-25 Tarumachi
Kōhoku-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken 222-0001
This store can be found on the way from Tsunashima station and you can check out their selection of second hand kits on the second floor. Last time I went there was a rough total of 700-ish aircraft and Fantasy kits. There are multiple stores like this, but these are mostly spread outside the centre Tokyo instead of in it. More info on that might be coming in the future.
11. Aso Bit city 1 Chome-15 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 101-0021
The Aso-Bit-City at this address no longer exists!
Last on this list is AsoBitCity. I only visited it once despite the fact that it is right on the other side of the block which houses the Radio Kaikan building (where the Yellow Submarine and Volks shops are). As part of a large tax-free chain store in Japan, Aso Bit City is supposed to offer a large choice of BB guns, trains and plamodels. However, when I went to this particular shop they seemed to be cleaning up their model section and whatever was left were a large number of the ever elusive Bandai Star Wars kits at a discount. Other items were a few anime models and some Gundam stuff. That was in January 2017, so I can’t say wether they still have these. If you find yourself in Akihabara and you want one of those Bandai kits it might be worth your time to check it out. Sadly, last time I checked their website it didn’t even seem to work anymore so I can’t tell for certain wether or not this shop actually still exists. An update about this will be made in the future.
I hope this list will help out some people wanting to visit certain scale model shops in Tokyo. While there are more stores than what I listed, these are pretty much the best ones to go too and I myself have visited over time. I also want to mention to always try to be respectful to the shops owners, fellow visitors and the store clerk’s requests. They are always ready to help you in any way if you would be in need of aid.
For anyone who would like to know more about ‘hidden shops’, I’m currently working on another part where I will go more in depth about other places that might prove interesting to some who would like other items than brand new kits.