When you hear the word “Gunpla”, one of two thoughts will likely cross your mind: 1) “More, more, more!” or 2) “Huh…?” For those who are not in the know, Gunpla is like Transformers + model ship kits (except instead of Transformers the robots are based on another Japanese anime export called Gundam).
Now, if you were ever a diehard fan of either Transformers or model ship building, we seriously suggest you try your hand at Gunpla; and if you’re living in or heading over to Tokyo anytime soon, there is no better place to initiate yourself into the Gunpla world than the Hobby Bar: Professor TK in Nakano.
Tokyo’s Oasis for Gunpla Builders
This kit builder’s oasis provides patrons with a welcoming space for indulging in childhood nostalgia and feeding an ever-growing grownup addiction to building kick-ass toy models. It also provides a unique opportunity to get one-on-one advice from a true Gunpla master who is well-respected within Japan’s massive Mecha model building community.
Located within the bustling Otaku haven of Nakano, less than 20 minutes west of Shinjuku, the Hobby Bar is an easy 5-minute walk from Nakano Station. The entrance is easily noticeable because of its unique signage, which tips the hat to Gundam aficionado’s with the inside “3x” joke.
At first glance, the unassuming entrance had me questioning whether or not this was the right place, but as the saying goes, “never judge a book by its cover.” Hidden within was an astonishing floor-to-ceiling array of Mecha model kits; and greeting us was the man behind the idea, Professor TK, and his tactical assistant, Agent Miharu.
Gundam Model Bar Interview with Professor TK
During the visit, I got the chance to talk with the Professor—founding member of one of Japan’s most popular Mecha model kit groups Real Robot Members—about his new passion, the Hobby Bar: Professor TK.
What was the inspiration for opening a model kit bar in Tokyo?
Actually, I was very passionate about Mecha kit building when I was just a boy, and after 20 years working in the sales industry, I finally listened to my inner child by following my passion. This idea came about naturally since I’ve always felt the need in Tokyo for a welcoming establishment focusing on model kits.
For someone new to Gunpla or the Mecha genre, how would you recommend enjoying an evening at the Hobby Bar: Professor TK?
This bar isn’t limited to patrons who are already experienced enthusiasts. We make this space welcoming to all who are interested. If you’re someone wanting to try your hand at your first Gundam kit while enjoying a few drinks, if you’re someone looking for experienced advice from a 20-year veteran in kit building, or if you’re interested in Gunpla shoptalk with Agent Miharu, these are all great reasons to stop in.
This is definitely a themed bar for model builders, so it’s a great place to meet people with similar interests. Also, combined with the fact that it’s a public setting most patrons are eager to talk about and show off their latest models. We have a great community atmosphere here.
We get a lot of people that come in who put the hobby on pause 20 years ago and are now looking to get back into building. When they tell us that the last time they touched a kit was when they were a kid, we always suggest starting back up. Most take the challenge and become addicted.
Others have never stopped and use the space as a way to network with other builders. No matter who comes in, though, the vibe is really good, because it’s based on nostalgia and great childhood memories.
Also, we have an interesting twist on the Japanese bar tradition of “Bottle Keep” (this is when you buy a whole bottle at a bar and each time you come back you can drink from it without any additional fee)—we call it “Gunpla Keep.” We want patrons to be able to work on their kits while stopping in, but that can be impractical if you have to bring your box and tools with you, especially after work.
You can either buy a Mecha model kit from us or bring in the current model you’re working on. We’ll store it for you for free and you can pull it out and work on it whenever you stop in.
If I came in on a Saturday night, who would I run into?
Are patrons are mostly men—almost 90 percent—who were part of the first generation of Gundam fans (those in their mid-30s to 40-year-olds). Some women tag along with a partner or group of coworkers, and they always have a good time, too. Agent Miharu tends the bar every Tuesday and Saturday, so these are great days for beginners and women to stop in as she’s a lot of fun to talk with.
Tuesdays and Saturdays are also our busiest days starting around 7 p.m. (you may want to call in ahead of time to see if the bar is at max seating). If you’re wanting to check out the bar when it’s less crowded, Wednesdays and Thursdays are great for beginners. Occasionally, we close the bar for a private event, which we always announce on Facebook and Twitter.
Is there a lot of interest in your bar from foreigners?
Gundam has gained a lot of popularity in many other Asian countries, so we regularly welcome a variety of nationalities. Often those who come in were introduced to us by one of our Japanese regulars.
Also, one of the aims of our bar is to introduce Mecha building to Western countries as well, which even with Gundam’s 36 years of domestic success, is still underrepresented in countries like the United States and England. My hope is that more Japanese Mecha series can gain a level of popularity similar to that of the Japanese Mecha export Transformers. There are just so many great elements to connect with in Japan and Gunpla brings together a great story and accessible model building.
What’s on the menu at Hobby Bar: Professor TK?
We have a variety of soft drinks (500 yen) and Japanese spirits (800 yen) available by the glass; but as mentioned before, Bottle Keep is popular here as well. We also offer a free buffet of nostalgic Japanese snacks that were popular when most of our patrons were still children, which helps bring back all those great lost memories of building Gunpla from Japanese childhood.
We do charge an hourly admittance (1000 yen for first 90 minutes, 1000 yen for each additional 60 minutes) for those who are only interested in building or talking.
What makes visitors come back again and again?
At Hobby Bar: Professor TK, it’s all about drinking, thinking, building, and proudly talking among peers about your passion. No strange looks from strangers sitting next to you. Here, you can explore a hobby while having a good time with friends—here you can be yourself.
I want my guests to feel like this is their second home.
Expert Advice from Professor TK on Gundam Model Kits
One of the features that this bar offers is expert advice from one of Japan’s most knowledgeable builders—on the house. If you interested in building and have questions, stop in, grab a drink and ask away. While there we asked for a couple suggestions on choosing a good beginner kit.
Best model for beginners: High Grade (HG) G Origin Version Zaku
Why: It’s easy to put together and the completed model looks great.
Best model for intermediate builders: Master Grade (MG) MS-09 Dom
Why: This model provides more complexity and impact compared to the High Grade models. Also, since this Mecha comes in threes in the series, you’ll want to build two more to complete the set.
Stopping in at Nakano’s Mecha Model Bar
For any foreigner visiting Tokyo who has an interest in Mecha kit building, a stop by Professor TK’s is a must and it’s so close to Nakano’s other amazing otaku shops. If anything else, visiting the bar is a great history lesson in Gunpla since it showcases over 36 years of extremely rare models built by the Professor.
You don’t have to be a hardcore Gundam fan, but be wary of the Professor’s challenge to try taking up just one model. You may become addicted!
Address: Tsuchiya Building, 3rd floor, 5-60-14 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo
Open: 7 day a week, 7 p.m.–
One last secret to share: The restroom is restricted and requires top-level access. Push the button at your own risk!