Catch the Dougram Diorama Caravan

Imagine, for a moment, that it’s the Summer of 1983.

Even though it’s been off the air for a couple of months, you’ve been working tirelessly on your latest Fang of the Sun Dougram plamo kit, a 1/48 scale Blockhead. Its paint job is immaculate. You even managed to not mess up any of the waterslide decals. So, what are you going to build next?

That decision warrants a trip down to your local model shop, and if you time it right, you might be able to catch the Dougram Diorama Caravan. Better bring your Blockhead kit, just in case.

Takara’s Dougram Diorama Caravan in all its splendor, with the VTR system on display in the inset.

The Dougram Diorama Caravan toured Japanese hobby shops from April to August 1983. Built using a second-gen Toyota TownAce van, the Dougram Caravan lived up to its name and was decked out with Dougram livery and crammed full of everything needed to make it a mobile diorama station on four wheels; three different diorama bases (desert, forest, rocky terrain), lighting, and plenty of cameras. On its four-month tour, the Dougram Caravan allowed modelers to pose their kits on pre-built dioramas and had the equipment to capture the scene either as a still photo or video (provided you brought your own VHS tape).

Back in 2009, Matt Alt translated some of the promo copy from the Dougram Diorama Caravan’s first appearance in the fifth issue of Takara’s Dual Magazine:

Team Caravan’s latest new weapon is a VTR Monitor System. It allows you to enjoy dioramas in a totally different way than with still cameras. When viewed in real-time on the monitor, dioramas feel a little like live-action tokusatsu shows. Bring your own diorama, and we’ll put it on screen for you! If you bring a tape, we’re happy to record it as well (VHS format only.)

The Caravan Car, which powers the Diorama Caravan, is finally complete! When you see it, you know the diorama caravan is in YOUR town! It carries three diorama packs (desert, forest, and rocky terrain), a still camera, lights, and our new weapon: the VTR Monitor System! The Caravan Car is making the rounds of Japan to kick off diorama-photographing events near you!

Crowds in front of the Caravan at Folks Model in Chiba. [Dual Magazine #7]
The next issue of Dual Magazine included photos from some of the shops visited on the tour and an announcement that the winner of the Caravan’s photo contest would be announced in future issues of “Dual Magazine, Comic Bon Bon, and Hobby Japan.” That particular issue dedicated three full pages to sharing photos of dioramas taken at the Caravan, including dates and locations, so we know exactly when it visited Mister Craft in Shibuya (May 15th and June 5th), Model Store Yama in Chiba (August 3rd), and Mamii in Meguro (May 29th).

Those locations and dates also suggest that maybe the Caravan didn’t get outside of the Kanto region, much. That same issues also reported that the Caravan appeared at hobby shows, likely making an appearance at both the 22nd Shizuoka Hobby Show in May and the Tokyo Toy Fair in June.1

The diorama-crafting at the core of the Caravan promotion was also a major part of Dual Magazine’s focus, with multiple features on how to set up and create your diorama and photograph it appearing throughout the magazine’s run. Perhaps it had to do with Takara’s focus on “down-to-earth” real robots or a broader focus on mecha kits popping up in hobby magazines like Hobby Japan and people curious about how to create satisfying photos of their kits. Whatever the reason was, it spoke to Takara’s unique approach to model kits during the heyday of the robot boom and, perhaps, their attempt to differentiate themselves from the Bandai gunpla juggernaut.2

Model dioramas and modellers from Mister Craft in Shibuya. [Dual Magazine #6]
The seventh issue of Dual Magazine, dated “Winter 1984,” included a full-color spread of the winners from the diorama photo contest and details about the next campaign, reportedly kicked off in October of ’83. In that issue, events from October onwards ditched the Dougram exclusivity and were described as either the “Diorama Caravan” or “Takara Caravan,” the marketing push having pivoted a bit to incorporate the latest Takara-sponsored show, Armored Trooper VOTOMS.

While the Dougram-branded TownAce van wasn’t featured prominently in that issue’s coverage, it was visible in the background of one photo so we can surmise they didn’t revamp the livery. That photo also seems to be the last photographic evidence of the caravan itself, leaving us with a couple questions: What happened to the Caravan Car and is there a Dougram-branded 40-year-old TownAce rotting away in a field outside of Tokyo somewhere?


  1. In a feature about those two hobby shows the Caravan is shown (see the image at the top of this article with an inset illustration by Mika Akitaka), but it’s not specified which show the Caravan appeared at or if it attended both.
  2. It’s worth noting that Bandai’s Gundam Mobile Suit Variations model kit series took a similar, more realistic and militaristic approach to giant robots. Coincidentally, the first MSV kit was released in April ’83–the same month that the Caravan hit the streets.