By Sawako Takeda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTAKASAKI, Gunma — 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 non-regular municipal government employees recruited from among 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 a few centimeters to 30 centimeters in size. Some of them were yet to be assembled and others in the midst of being painted.
A total of 40 kinds 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. Tyrannosaur figures, which are popular among children, are also produced.
In addition, figures of the town’s mascot character Saurus-kun and the prefectural mascot Gunma-chan riding on a dinosaur are produced.
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 uniquely local souvenir. The town then recruited staff to make figures and started the production in February 2013.
The applicants were all amateurs who did not even know such basics as the overall process for producing figures and using the machines, making them feel as if they were fumbling around in the dark.
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.”
A room of the center for cleaning fossils was renovated to install ventilators on windows.
The whole process — from shape forming and painting to putting products into boxes — is a series of manual tasks 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 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 has earned a good reputation, leading to an upturn in sales at such venues as a national touring dinosaur exhibition. In fiscal 2016, over 3,000 figures were sold, a jump from 795 in fiscal 2013. The figures are sold at the center, its online shop and six museums across the nation.