For over three decades, the Japanese government has been promoting Japanese culture overseas to strengthen cultural, economic and diplomatic ties with the global community. Alongside powerhouses like Super Mario, Hello Kitty and, more recently, Demon Slayer, the Gundam franchise, with its futuristic setting, giant mechs and action-packed storylines, continues to build its fanbase worldwide.
Whether you’ve been a fan since 1979 or are new to the franchise, read on to learn how to experience Gundam in Japan.
History of Gundam
In April 1979, Tomino Yoshiyuki debuted Mobile Suit Gundam, a TV series that would launch the “real robot” genre of mecha anime. In contrast to contemporary hit “super robot” series like Mazinger Z, which combined robot aesthetics with fantastical plots, Gundam prioritized science fiction elements, such as detailed explanations behind the Gundam universe’s technology and storytelling driven by politics, war and morality.
For over four decades, the Gundam franchise has entertained audiences across all platforms, including over 50 anime series and over 200 video games. Gundam is also a big name in the hobby industry, with Bandai Namco selling over 700 million Gundam model kits as of 2021. Check out the statues, merchandise and experiences below for how to get up close and personal with the franchise in Japan itself!
Easily the most eye-catching of Japan’s Gundam attractions are the three life-sized statues depicting some of the franchise’s most memorable mobile suits.
Series appearance: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
Height: 19.7 m
Highlights: While this Gundam typically stands white in its Unicorn Mode, it emits pink light as it transforms into Destroy Mode. At night, DiverCity acts as a cinematic backdrop for five different video displays, complete with classic music and characters from the series.
- Destroy Mode transformation: 11 a.m./1 p.m./3 p.m./5 p.m.
- Multimedia light shows every 30 minutes starting from 7 p.m.
Series appearance: Based on the original Gundam featured in Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
Highlights: The RX-78F00 is unique in that it moves from standing, walking, crouching and other positions. This moving Gundam is a temporary attraction that will remain in place until March 31, 2024. It is also possible to purchase tickets to climb up the scaffolding surrounding the Gundam and get up close views of the hulking giant.
Show times: This Gundam has several transformations from Standby Mode to Awakening Mode. Check out this schedule for more information.
Series appearance: Based on the RX-93v, which appeared in the film Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack
Highlights: The RX-93 is the largest life-sized Gundam statue in Japan. In addition to lighting up and moving its head and arm during the performance, the Gundam is accompanied by multimedia shows that highlight the eternal struggle between the series’ first protagonist, Amuro Ray, and his rival, Char Aznable.
- Every hour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Night shows include multimedia displays that run every 30 minutes starting at 7 p.m.
Take a piece of the Gundam franchise home with you by visiting one of the cafes or bringing home a plastic model kit.
Although the original Gundam anime is often heralded as an innovator in popular culture in Japan and beyond, it was not a hit in its original airing. Instead, the franchise’s eventual success was built upon the toy manufacturer Bandai’s acquisition of the rights to produce plastic model kits based on the mobile suits featured in the series. Since 1980, released under the name Gunpla, which combines the words Gundam and plastic, millions have been sold at various price points and difficulty levels.
These kits are widely available at specialty shops and general hobby goods stores. Large chains, such as Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera, carry plenty of kits to keep you busy, while second-hand ones can be found at Book Off and Mandarake. For a special takeaway, the life-sized Gundam featured above each has its own official Gunpla stores on site where limited edition model kits can be purchased.
While official Gundam Cafes once dotted the Japanese consumer landscape, they have all disappeared as a result of the pandemic except for one. If you make a trip out to Yokohama Gundam Factory, stop by the Gundam Cafe and treat yourself to some Gundam-themed food and drink. The pancake in the shape of the loveable robot Haro from the original series or kid’s curry topped with a Gundam-shaped piece of nori (seaweed) will delight and satisfy hungry fans.
Get a deeper look into all things Gundam by visiting museums or factories around Japan.
Located in Tochigi prefecture, the Bandai Museum’s Hobby exhibition is a must-see for franchise fans, whether you’re into models or not. The large bust of the RX-78-2 model from the original series is close to making the list of life-sized Gundam statues. Sitting at about 5.6m tall, other highlights at the museum include large dioramas complete with plenty of Gunpla and other models recreating iconic scenes from the series’ history.
Gundam Bases and Factory
Each life-sized Gundam has its site filled with Gunpla exhibits, shops for merchandise and displays for visitors to learn more about the series.
Gundam Base Tokyo
Highlight: Visit the Factory Zone to see how Gunpla are created.
Highlight: Stop by The Academy to learn about the design and construction of the moving Gundam. This hands-on experience allows you to touch several exhibits and even program the movements of a virtual Gundam.
Highlight: Check out the Space Monitor area with 6x10m screens showing Gundam mobile suits screaming through space.