If you got into RC anytime during the 80s or 90s, there’s a likely chance that your first kit was a Tamiya buggy. For those that we speak to in the industry, we often hear stories of Grasshoppers, Frogs and Hornets as being the gateway drug into this addictive hobby. The same can be said of famed graphic designer, Jun Watanabe.
Watanabe is a sought after artist that collaborates with the likes of fashion brands Reebok, le coq sportif, Colombia, Pro-Keds, ZOZOTOWN, as well as Japanese pop-culture heavyweights such as Kotobukiya, Hatsune Miku and the popular anime franchise, Evangelion. His work hasn’t gone unnoticed by Tamiya, which has tapped him to collaborate on a plethora of projects including apparel, accessories and even his own version of the legendary Hornet buggy.
We reached out across the pond and got an exclusive interview with the in-demand designer direct from Tokyo. Let’s find out more about him and check out his latest project, the retro 80s-inspired brand, Blockhead Motors.
RCCA: Watanabe-san, can you tell our readers what type of work do you do?
JW: I am a graphic designer that runs my own design company. We mainly create graphic design for clothes, logos and character design for companies. We also consult for brands as well. We develop products and collaborate with various companies that produce sneakers, plastic models, radio control kits, clothes, and more. I also design and produce radio control goods through my brand called, Blockhead Motors.
RCCA:: Many of our readers know you from your Tamiya collaborations. How did you start working with Tamiya?
JW: I’ve been a big fan of Tamiya since I was kid. When I grew up and became a graphic designer, I knew that I wanted to work with them. Of course, Tamiya’s graphic design is perfect, but I wanted younger people to know about Tamiya. So, I wanted to fuse fashion and Tamiya together and sent a handwritten letter outlining my ideas along with some of my favorite radio control photos. From there, the relationship with the people at Tamiya began. I didn’t get to work with them right away, but I was able to talk directly to the Tamiya staff at least. I remember that it was very exciting for me.
RCCA:: What was your first project with Tamiya?
JW: A t-shirt. The goal was to produce a high quality t-shirt as our first collaborative product. The design was a monochrome Tamiya logo printed on a simple white tee. Until then, high quality items that use simple designs and quality fabrics were are not available as official Tamiya goods. The design is purposely simple so as not to break the Tamiya tradition.
RCCA: Which is your favorite work that you designed for Tamiya?
JW: It is the Jun Watanabe version Hornet. It is one of the most important works in my designer life.
RCCA: Can you tell us more about your Tamiya Hornet collaboration?
JW: Suddenly one day, the head of Tamiya’s RC department offered me the opportunity. He said, “Do you want to design a Hornet?” I was so surprised and stunned to receive the offer; it was such an honor. At that time, the only RC car designed by an outside of Tamiya designer was the Big Wig.
I was doing sneaker design and fashion-related work at the time, so I thought it was a chance to take RC cars into a wider world. Perhaps the design was unacceptable for those who have always loved radio control, but Tamiya’s RC manager and I knew I had to do work that would break down walls.
At that time, I was in the process of thinking of a collaborative design idea for Reebok’s Pump Fury sneakers. The idea was that if the Hornet and the Reebok sneaker designs matched and the product release times were synchronized, the two releases could create a synergy that would bring attention to the RC hobby on a worldwide scale. Upon its release, the fashion media and hobbyists alike embraced the car and the matching sneakers. This was back in 2012, so it’s been a while since it was released; but it’s still popular so I’m glad I did it.
RCCA: Can you tell us about Blockhead Motors?
JW: It all started in 2016. After designing the Hornet, I became interested in vintage Tamiya RC. As I did more research, I came to realize that Tamiya’s buggies, especially the early ones from the 80s, were based on real-life 1/1-scale off-road buggies. When I was a kid back then, there wasn’t the internet and there were too few sources, so I thought Tamiya’s off-road style buggies only existed in RC form. I was immediately drawn into the charm of these real-life desert racers.
This brings me to my brand Blockhead Motors. I believe that Tamiya at the time wanted to faithfully reproduce replicas of off-road buggies. However, there were parts that were not feasible to be produced with the technology of the 80s. What I want to do with Blockhead Motors is to offer accessories that allow enthusiasts to recreate the real buggies of that time period by using classic Tamiya RC cars as the base.
RCCA: What type of RC cars do you like the best?
JW: I enjoy off-road vehicles that I can play with leisurely. A few years ago, I was absorbed in touring car racing and participated in the All Japan Championships and international tournaments in Thailand and Singapore, but I got burnt out. lol
RCCA: Which RC car is your favorite and why?
JW: Right now, it’s Tamiya’s Wild One for its realism. Also, there is plenty of room for modifying and decorating it too. If you take a picture of it on dirt from a low angle, it really looks like the real thing.
RCCA: What future projects can you tell us about?
JW: Blockhead Motors is developing aluminum bumpers for retro Tamiya buggies. It’s a vintage style bumper that can be attached to Hornets, Grasshoppers, Monster Beetles, and the like. It will be available in the spring.
RCCA: Is there anything else you want to let our readers know?
JW: I want to connect with people from various industries by way of radio control. When I introduce myself as a radio control enthusiast, everyone responds well. I think those of us who grew up in the 80s all like radio control, it’s amazing. Keep your eye out for various Blockhead Motors products. If you are interested in them, please contact me.
You can visit Watanabe-san at his Blockhead Motors shop during your next trip to Japan. It’s located at: 396 Kozuka, Fujisawa-shi, Kanagawa. The shop isn’t always open, but notices on when they open are regularly posted on their Instagram account at:
@blockheadmotors. If you can’t wait, they do ship worldwide. Check out their products at:blockheadmotors.stores.jp
To see more works by Jun Watanabe, visit his website at: junwatanabe.jp
Text by Jerry Tsai
Images provided by Jun Watanabe