The Empire of Japan: Type 97 Chi-Ha tank with diorama (Dragon 1:35)
This is my entry to the Empire of Japan 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 diorama 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…
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:
As with real tanks, there are few kits in the armor range of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). The Dragon 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 Type 97
into a fabulous diorama while Bill @billkoppos built exactly the same kit like me:
So, to all standards: Some serious competition 😉
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 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 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!