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Michel Verschuere
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The Empire of Japan: Type 97 Chi-Ha tank with diorama (Dragon 1:35)

January 25, 2021 · in Armor · · 20 · 2.5K

This is my entry to the Empire of Group Build hosted by my dear friend Louis Gardner . @lgardner
The build extended over about 9 months, not because the kit was so hard but rather because I could not free-up sufficient time to finish the build, painting and completion. The progress report can be found under

I did not want to rush this build: After all this is about the Empire of Japan and @lgardner is het host, both to be treated with utmost respect and none to be disappointed in any way...

Short history:
Japan was not really a country known for its extended tank force. Rather, it was predominantly a naval nation and so was the kind of warfare in the pacific, at least during the most well-known conflict period from 1941 onwards. Nevertheless, there were over 1000 pieces built of this medium tank. You can find more info on this tank on wikipedia:

The kit:
As with real tanks, there are few kits in the armor range of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). The kit is one of them, and I know this kit #6870 was taken as subject matter for entry into Louis' GB at least twice. There simply is not much choice for armor builders like me wishing to contribute, alkthough there is a myriad of choices for airplane modeling fanatics! At least Gary @gwskat built the Tamiya kit for the
into a fabulous diorama while Bill @billkoppos built exactly the same kit like me:
So, to all standards: Some serious competition 馃槈

The kit itself is typical DML: Very good detail, some very good engineering here and there, PE parts, a figure even. The only drawback of DML are the instructions and the price, but once you overcome these hurdles, it builds into a great replica of the Type 97 in 1:35th scale. I decided to use the figure in the kit, rather than the MiniArt kit I announced. The planned dio was too small to allow for many figures.

The build:
The build was rather uneventful, although some of the PE required attention, especially the covering of the exhaust. I think this kit comes at a price in terms of the PE but given the thin plate thickness where it was used on the real vehicle, PE seems to me like the best choice by Dragon. The tank was built OOB: The Dragon kit is accurate enough for that purpose. Because of the sometimes fiddly parts, I would not recommend this kit to newbies in the hobby. Otherwise: The tracks are link and length type and you get a nice pair of jigs to assemble them with sag, which looks really great on the finished model!

Painting and weathering:
The main hurdle when completing this kit is the painting. This IJA tank had a three color camo scheme. I started of primering the finished kit black, from the rattle can. I kept most external elements detached when doing so. Then I added the green base color. The camo scheme chocolate brown and sandy yellow were added using a brush, in order to allow for sharp edges without the need for masking. The main challenge was the set of yellow stripes: These mimicked the sun reflection through a jungle canopy. That I did by hand and brush as well. Overall, I used enamels (Revell) throughout.

I kept the weathering limited: Just added a standard brown and black wash using oils diluted in mineral spirits. This was applied on the model after a coat of satin varnish, also from the rattle can. My tank is embedded in a dio away from fighting, so you can assume the tankers maintained - and washed - their vehicle well.

The diorama:
The conflict in the pacific intrigued me since I was a little boy. I read Buck Danny comics and the first editions were almost entirely devoted to this theatre. Japan remains a country of great interest for me to this day. Therefore, I wanted to go the extra mile and bring the vehicle in a Japanese setting. So I researched on Torii gates and decided to make one from wood. After priming and painting, I added decals I printed on my inkjet printer. The once on the supports represent the seven virtues of Bushido:
I also added a plaquette on top of the Torii gate, again this was made from a decal. Torii gates can be found on Shinto-shrines in Japan and represent the passing from the sacral to the mundane (from the spiritual to the everyday world). In this diorama I wanted it to represent the transfer of the Imperial Japanese Army from the sacred islands of Japan to the outside world, beginning in the early 1930'ies with the invasion of Manchuria.

There is something about Japan one must respect: Although they industrialized very late in the nineteenth century, they learned very quickly and even beat the Russian navy at Tsushima in 1905. Forty years earlier, they did not have a navy yet, just imagine! Even Isoroku Yamamoto was a scholar of American culture and economics in the 1920'ies!

Vegetation in the pacific is very different that that elsewhere on the planet, so I decided to add some bamboo. I found this great tutorial on the web to make realistic bamboo:
I used a variant, where the leaves were made of colored paper, not metal. I am quite happy about the result: The bamboo looks very realistic in my honest opinion. One tree took me about two hours to complete, so yes, it is a cumbersome thing. But hey: It's a hobby!

Hope you like my entry to the Empire of Japan GB! Thanks @lgardner for hosting!

Happy modeling!


Reader reactions:
7 Awesome

20 responses

  1. This is an amazing result, Michel @michel-verschuere!
    I like the fact that it basically is hand painted: looks nice and sharp!
    The diorama setting is absolutely gorgeous; I loved the bamboos!
    I had the pleasure to follow your build thread: it was a great ride!

  2. Well done, Michel! Thanks for the shout out...

  3. Michel, @michel-verschuere
    This is an incredible posting ! First off, I want to thank you for contributing to our Empire of Japan with this armor build. Just as you mentioned, the Japanese didn't have a large armored force during WW2, and there are not many kits available today for building.

    Your diorama setting with the tank passing under a Torii gate looks so realistic. The hand made bamboo shoots are like icing on the cake and make for the perfect setting to display your Type 97. I also commend you on painting the figure. The tank commander looks lifelike and is perfection in miniature. Even his gloves look authentic. This is something that I have yet to master... and the main reason why I hardly ever include figures on my builds.

    Watching this come together in your build journal was a lot of fun. I have this same kit in the stash, and will use what you guys have posted as a building guide when it finally hits the work bench. The Chi-Ha tank also looks spectacular... I especially like how the three tone camouflage turned out.

    This has to be your best work yet... and again I sincerely thank you for participating in our Empire of Japan group build.

    Well done my friend. It's perfect !

    I definitely pressed the "liked" button. 馃檪

  4. Thank you Louis, this one took me longer but I'm full of ideas for the next project. As you know, I will also contribute to your Korea GB! Looking forward to commence that although focus will likely be on figures.

    As for figure painting: I agree it is one of the most difficult part of armor building but figures are indispensable to show proportions. Also they literally add life to any diorama, like @gwskat showed in his EOJ dio.

    I personally like these tutorials by R. H. Chac贸n, hosted by MBK who recently teamed up with Andy's Hobby HQ from Flagstaff AZ. You might have heard from him. Maybe you can watch these vids once and find inspiration, there are auto-generated subtitles there.

    On the way they might make a lot of noise on paint brands, but to be honest I use acrylics mixed from a basic set of colors. Gives you the idea. For small details I use Revell enamel.

  5. Nice work, Michel. It鈥檚 good to see unusual vehicles like this built.

  6. Great finish to the build! The compact diorama matches well with the diminutive tank.

  7. Stunning. Thank you for sharing, and not least taking us through the journey in the group.

  8. Great job Michel. "Liked"!

  9. Outstanding work on display here Michel, hand painting, bamboo trees, and a Toril gate. Just some marvalous eye candy to view.

  10. 馃檪 ... Greetings ... 馃檪 :
    A great build and a very good show of skills Michel.

  11. Very Japanese, Michel, a great addition to this group build, definitely liked.

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