Photo/IllutrationGundam na Bar Side-6 in the Hiyoshimachi district of Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, is crammed with plastic models of Gundam and other robots collected by owner Takao Ito. (Ryuta Kuratomi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KURUME, Fukuoka Prefecture--Takao Ito combined his need for space, his model-collecting obsession and his fondness for drinking to create what has become a “holy place” for enthusiasts of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” robot anime franchise.

His cocktail bar, called Gundam na Bar Side-6, stands on a corner of a busy downtown area here.

Its huge door resembling the entrance to a spaceship offers a preview of the world inside.

Ito, 47, greets guests with a smile while wearing the costume of Amuro Ray, the protagonist of the space odyssey series.

On display inside the bar, from floor to ceiling, are nearly 500 plastic models of Gundam and other robots and vehicles from the anime. The figures are collectively known as “Gunpla,” and it took Ito about 20 years to accumulate his “treasures,” including the “Perfect Grade” models on a scale of 1:60.

The menu also lists beers inspired by the robot anime.

Fans from around the country frequent the establishment, filling up the counter seats on weekend nights. The bar has also become popular among overseas tourists.

When asked which model was his favorite, Ito pointed at an airship-like Gunpla hanging from the ceiling.

“That would be Dendrobium, which appears in the ‘Mobile Suit Gundam 0083’ straight-to-video series,” he said.

Ito became fascinated by the “coolness” of the original “Mobile Suit Gundam” animated TV show when he was a grade-schooler.

He then became obsessed with building Gunpla and used his allowance to buy model kits.

“I thought I would buy as many as possible when I could earn my own living,” Ito said.

After finishing high school, Ito attended a vocational school for beauticians. He worked at a beauty shop in Fukuoka before opening his own salon in Kurume at the age of 24.

“Now that I was making my own living, I couldn’t suppress my feelings any longer, and I went on a buying spree of Gunpla,” he recalled.

His home was soon overflowing with Gunpla.

When Ito was looking for a place to store his models, an acquaintance introduced him to the site that now houses the Gundam bar.

Ito opened the bar in March 2017 while also managing his beauty shop.

“At first, I was just looking for a space for storage, but because I’m also fond of drinking, it ended up being a cocktail bar before I knew it,” he said.

Word of the bar spread, first attracting Gundam fans from the Kyushu region and then the rest of the country.

An increasing number of foreign tourists are also visiting the bar. A U.S. coach participating in the Kurume U.S.E. Cup, an international women’s tennis tournament held annually here, is also a patron, Ito said.

“I want to do my best to further share the charms (of Gunpla) with everyone,” Ito said.