TAKASAKI, Japan >> Dinosaur figures meticulously handmade at the Kanna Dinosaur Center in Kanna, Gunma Prefecture, have grown to become a new local specialty item. Their sales have increased year after year, contributing to the town’s increased publicity.
The figures are produced by municipal government employees recruited from local residents.
A room of the center — where fossils and skeletal specimens of dinosaurs were exhibited — was crammed with unfinished dinosaur figures ranging from about one inch to 12 inches in size. Some of them were yet to be assembled and others were half painted.
Forty types of figures are made at the center, including dinosaurs with local connections such as spinosaurus and sanchuryu. In the town, fossil teeth of spinosaurus and parts of sanchuryu’s backbone have been discovered. Tyrannosaurus figures, which are popular among children, are also produced.
Figures of the town’s mascot character, Saurus-kun, and the prefectural mascot, Gunma-chan, riding on a dinosaur are also created there.
The center was established in 1987 by the former village of Nakasato, which is now part of Kanna, to attract tourists and promote the locality as a “dinosaur village.”
About 30,000 people visit the center annually, but the town did not have a unique local souvenir. Staff started producing the figures in February 2013.
Early staff members were new to producing figures and did not even know the basics of the process.
Shiro Arai, 61, one of the first staff members, recalled those days, saying: “I applied in response to a bulletin, but I soon noticed that this workplace was for craftsmen. I was just overwhelmed, wondering what a tough place I had come to.”
The whole process — from shape forming and painting to putting products into boxes — is done manually by three staff members. They file the teeth and sharpen the talons of dinosaur figures and paint them many times with airbrushes and brushes. Sometimes it takes several days to paint a single figure.
Another staff member, Mitsunori Kurosawa, 60, accepts no compromise when making figures. He said, “I pay close attention to even the small parts that can’t be seen from outside.”
The high quality of the figures have lead to sales at such venues as a national touring dinosaur exhibition and museum shops. In 2016, more than 3,000 figures were sold, a jump from 795 in 2013.
Arai said, “Made-in-Kanna figures have gradually become popular. I think the number of visitors to the center also will increase.”