Woody Joe is a Japanese manufacturer of wooden model kits. They have a range of subjects, mostly Japanese, that includes some very interesting and unique things, ranging from Mikoshi, a kind of portable shrine that is usually carried in lively processions, to Japanese temples and famous Japanese castles, even a 1/24 scale model of a Mitsubishi Type 52 “Zero”. But of course, on a blog like this one, the most important thing is their ship models, and these range from a modern day Japanese ocean liner to well known western ships from the age of sail, and also a unique line of Edo period Japanese boats.
So far, I only have seen photos of examples of their models that people have built, all of them in Japan, and have yet to build one myself. So, I can not attest to the quality of the build. But, I finally broke down and purchased one of their kits in December of last year and it is waiting patiently for me to get started. Having the kit in hand, I can make a few comments about it.
A Kit Overview
The kit is the 1/75 scale Kanrin Maru. Woody Joe actually makes two versions of this kit, one with sails and one without. Why they didn’t just make one kit and give you the option to build with sails I can’t say. I guess it saves the buyer a little money in the long run, but doesn’t give you any room to think about how you want to finish it as you’re building it.
You might think, big deal, just pay a little extra for the one with sails, then you can decide, and you’d mostly be correct. The minor issue is that since the ship had a telescoping smoke stack and raisable propeller, you’d have to make allowances and scratch build a new stack, but that shouldn’t be too difficult. Anyway, mine is the version without sails.
My first impression, looking over this kit, is that it is the most well organized kit I’ve ever seen. All parts are packed in plastic bags in small sets, even the dowels for the masts and yards are separately packaged, hull planking is separately packaged, deck planking is separately packaged, and each package is labeled with part numbers. This is essential if you don’t know how to read Japanese.
Laser cut parts are very clean and there are a lot of them. In fact, I would judge that there are very few parts you have to fashion yourself – they’ve seem to have all be laser cut and ready for assembly. The only things that are not in plastic packaging are the bulkheads and keel pieces, which are on laser cut sheets.
Metal parts are mostly cast white metal and seem to have good detail. Some etched brass parts are included as well.
Probably the one apparent downside to the kit is the use of plastic for the ship’s boats and for the blocks. This ship apparently had metal rigging screws or turnbuckles, so there are no deadeyes in the kit. If there were, I’d think they’d be plastic too. A finicky ship modeler (like me) would probably replace these plastic parts with wood ones. And anyway, the blocks in the kit are all the same size, which would be very unlikely and very unrealistic. But, that’s an easy fix. The ship’s boats should be easy to replace too, though aftermarket boats are often metal or plastic.
As for the plans and instructions, this is probably the trickiest issue. They’re all in Japanese. However, the instructions are very well illustrated and the plans are clear enough. I expect that someone with model building experience wouldn’t have much trouble figuring things out from the drawings.
Meanwhile, I’ve put a US distributor onto the idea of importing these kits. If this happens, I think they will include some kind of english language translation or english version of the instructions. Until then, you’ll have to work through it or wait for me to write my article on the Kanrin Maru build, which obviously isn’t going to be published until after I’ve built it!
But, I may post my translations of the parts list and description of the construction steps here before then.
So, how does one go about purchasing a Woody Joe kit today?
I’ve seen them pop up occasionally on Ebay and elsewhere, but the asking prices are highly inflated, as much as $200 above MSRP. Right now especially, the exchange rates are extremely favorable for US buyers of Japanese goods. Since I bought my Kanrin Maru kit in December, the change in rates has dropped the price of the kit by almost $50. Being that the kits are little on the pricey side to begin with, this is a real boon for us here in the US.
When I contacted Woody Joe, they pointed me to an online dealer called “Zootoyz” and I have to say that the service was very good and the pricing matches the prices that Woody Joe lists. The Zootoyz site has english language pages that are easy to follow (though translations aren’t perfect) and when you add items to your cart, you will see the price in Yen and the converted price in dollars. This seems to be automatic and varies with the current exchange rate.
Shipping from Japan is one of 3 ways: Air lines package (AIR), economy air lines package (SAL), and express mail service (EMS). As it turns out, this is not all that expensive when you consider how much you end up paying for shipping in the US anyway. I ordered my Kanrin Maru kit by express mail and it cost about $35 to ship. If I’d ordered a similar kit from say Model Expo, they charge $25 and ship by a ground service that takes a week or more. I got my kit from Japan in a matter of just a few days for not much more money.
In any case, this is a far cry from the Japanese Ebay sellers that want to charge $60 to $90 to ship you a kit that they are already overcharging you for.
For general information of the full range of Woody Joe products in Japanese:
Eventually, we’ll hopefully see a US distributor bringing these products into the US, making them more readily available. In the meantime you can buy here:
UPDATE 3/26/16: At present, Zootoyz is having some issues either with their online site or possibly with their supplier of Woody Joe kits. They tell me that they are looking to resume Woody Joe kit sales in May. You can email them about their sales status here.