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Fantastic Gachapon and Where to Find Them: Discovering Japanese Capsule Toys

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Fantastic Gachapon and Where to Find Them: Discovering Japanese Capsule Toys

 

 
 
Depending on your country and age you might have seen capsule toy machines as a kid. Have you ever asked your parents for a few coins to get some cheap toy or a jawbreaker from them? I know I have. I could never have enough of those bouncing balls.

Capsule toys at Gachapon Kaikan Akihabara

The Japanese counterpart of capsule toys, gachapon, are a bit different. There are so many more of them than in the West and the average quality of the toys is quite high. But the biggest difference is that they are not only for kids.

Underpants for your smartphone, cat hats, little girls disguising as a piece of sushi, miniatures of the Statue of Liberty in a sexy pose; these are just some examples of what they call otona no gachagacha or 'capsule toys for adults'. They are cute. They are weird. They are funny. And best of all, they are cheap.
 

Of Humble Origins

Gachapon were born in 1965 when the company Penny Shokai imported a vending machine from the United States. The first machines would work with 10 yen coins and spit out cheap toys and candy in a little capsule. In 1977, toy maker Bandai entered the market with capsule toys that were 100 yen instead on 10, which were a huge success. The manufacturer even trademarked the term 'Gashapon'.

Gaiking Gashapon figure from 1998
An old Gashapon toy from 1998: a Gaiking figure

Initially the toys were made of low quality plastic, with little detail and only one color. They were mainly collectible figures of popular anime, and they were rather cheap-looking and bulky. As years went by the quality and detail improved significantly.

Capsule toy machines at Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan - Tokyo
Gachapon in 2017

In modern days gachapon machines are a lot more compact than they used to be, and the toys a lot more varied. The average price is 200-300 yen and you can find them literally everywhere. In malls, outside of stores, and on the street. There are even entire shops dedicated to them. 
 

Gachapon Kaikan, the Capsule Toy Heaven

Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan - Tokyo

In the gachapon business for 15 years and showcasing some 500 capsule toy machines, this is the clear winner for the best gachapon choice available. Gachapon Kaikan is located just off the main street of Akihabara Electric Town.
 

An Endless Sea of Gacha Awaits You

Capsule toy machines at Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan - Tokyo

You can literally get lost in this shop and spend hours wandering through the stacked machines that reach the ceiling. Gachapon Kaikan gets about 50 new gachapon series every month so there's no getting bored! It's basically a new shop every time you go.
 
Owner of Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan - Tokyo  
You'll be greeted by the friendly owner, Kono-san, who has worked here for over 10 years. I asked him how he saw the world of gachapon change over time.

"In the beginning gachapon were figures collected mainly by men. When women started buying them too, the market opened to other products like straps and keychains. As computers and the Internet became largely used, a lot of workspace accessories made their appearance. Also, while initially most gachapon were anime themed, there are now a lot of non-character products. Nowadays a lot of people that don't watch anime are enjoying gachapon, too."
 
Pikachu figure from Pokemon gachapon
Gachapon brighten up my workspace, too!

I wanted to know why Japanese adults like gachapon so much. "They are cheap," observed Kono-san, "and different than games where you play a couple hundred yen and you either win or lose. You always get something with gachapon. People also like the excitement of not knowing what will come out. What's more, now the quality of gachapon is a lot better than when they were kids."
 

A Little Gachapon Exhibition

Finally I'd like to show you some of the cutest, weirdest and funniest gachapon that I've found. I hope they inspire your own gachapon hunt!
 

■The Gachapon Revolution: Fuchico on the Cup

Fuchico on the Cup - Japanese gachapon

Let's start with something that is said to have changed the world of Japanese capsule toys. In 2012 a new series of gachapon called Fuchico on the Cup was born. It was not one of the usual keychains or magnets, but something that interacted with people's everyday life. She was a tiny office lady that sits on the edge of your cup.

She was designed by manga artist Katsuki Tanaka. He had noticed that a lot of people were posting boring food pictures on social media, and wanted them to look more interesting. Fuchico was an instant hit; she sold millions and to this day she's all over Japanese social media. People that had never had interest in gachapon started discovering this world thanks to Fuchico.

There are too many Fuchico series to count and people love collecting these tiny women. I know that because I own over a hundred myself...

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 200-400 yen
 
Fuchico comes in a lot of different colors and poses

Fuchico comes in a lot of different colors and poses

You can get creative with your Fuchico and have them do tricks

You can get creative with your Fuchico and have them do tricks

I always take one with me wherever I go

I always take one with me wherever I go

Summer themed Fuchico

Summer themed Fuchico

Where's Waldo? Themed Fuchico

Where's Waldo? Themed Fuchico

カメラテスト

Christmas themed Fuchico

 

■Ultra-Realistic Tiny Animals: PUTITTO Pigmy Hippo

Ultra-Realistic Tiny Animals: PUTITTO Pigmy Hippo

Inspired by the success of Fuchico, PUTITTO are a series of 'edge of the cup' figures. There are anime characters like Pikachu, Osomatsu-san and Golgo 13, as well as animals and people. This recent pigmy hippo collection was just too adorable to let go. The details are amazing. How can you not smile every time you see this on your cup?

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 300 yen
 

■A Day in the Life of Animal Office Workers

A Day in the Life of Animal Office Workers

There are a bajillion of animal-themed gachapon out there, but this is one of my favorites. I think they would be a perfect office display!

Manufacturer: TAKARA TOMY A.R.T.S
Price: 200 yen
 

A Pug in a Box...or a Box Pug?

Haco Pug - Kitan Club Gachapon

I really want to meet Kitan Club's creative team. One day, they got together in the meeting room and they decided that the world needed cube-shaped pugs. I can't but agree! These are amazing and I need a stack on my desk.

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 300 yen
 

■Japanese Puns: Kaikaburi

Japanese Puns: Kaikaburi

The Japanese really love puns. The expression kaikaburu means 'to overestimate or overvalue something'. However, if you write it in a different way, it can also mean 'to wear a shellfish on your head'. Hence these figures.

Manufacturer: TAKARA TOMY A.R.T.S
Price: 200 yen
 

■The Bread Mascot That Looks Like You Can Eat It but You Can't

The Bread Mascot That Looks Like You Can Eat It but You Can't

Yes, that's the actual name. Another type of gachapon that is very popular is fake food. These squishy breads are great anti-stress toys and they're also incredibly realistic. Can you tell which croissants are real?

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 300 yen
 

■Moai à la Mode

Moai à la Mode

Faces from the Easter Island statues on fruit? Why not? These highly realistic pieces of fruit and sweets are sure to make your dessert more entertaining. I am quite happy with my piece of melon, I hope I get the banana next time.

Manufacturer: TAKARA TOMY A.R.T.S
Price: 200 yen
 

■Kinnikuman Dogeza Strap

Kinnikuman Dogeza Strap Curry Cook Gachapon

Dogeza is part of the Japanese etiquette. It consists in kneeling on the ground and bowing with your head to the floor to show deep apology. Kitan Club has a whole array of these apologetic character series and I found a Kinnikuman one! The character I got is Curry Cook from the 20th Chojin Olympics Chapter.

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 200 yen
 

■Female Tanuki

Female Tanuki

A Tanuki is a creature from Japanese folklore. Tanuki statues are very common in Japan, and people often buy them as souvenirs. But why be boring? Be original and get this hilarious bikini version instead!

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 300 yen
 

■Neo Folk Crafts Mascots

Neo Folk Crafts Mascots - Japanese Gachapon

With gachapon becoming more and more popular among foreigners, Japan-themed series also started popping up. Neo-Mingei Mascot is a collection of traditional folk craft items reinterpreted by various artists. I can't believe how cheap these are for their quality and I love my origami horse!

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 300 yen
 

■Smartphone Omamori

Smartphone Omamori Gachapon

If you have visited a temple or shrine in Japan, you'll be familiar with these little lucky charms called omamori. There are many types based on the kind of protection that people need: health charms, traffic safety charms, study charms and so on. These omamori imitations give some protection to your smartphone!

Manufacturer: KITAN CLUB
Price: 300 yen
 

■Nyanko Kitchen - Nyanko House Appliances Calico Cat Version

Nyanko Kitchen - Nyanko House Appliances Calico Cat Version

Need some extra cuteness in your life? Well, what's cuter than miniature house appliances with cat faces on them? Seriously. Look at how tiny that kitty-muffin is. Also, the cat-microwave has a door that actually opens and there's a gear to make the plate inside rotate. People build entire miniature houses out of these kinds of gachapon.

Manufacturer: EPOCH
Price: 200 yen
 

Warning: It's Easy to Get Addicted!

Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan - Capsule toy machines Japan

Want to bring home something unique from Japan? Gachapon are a fun and cheap way to get great gifts and souvenirs. You also get to explore some of the Japanese culture and humor. Have fun looking for the craziest and cutest series!
 

Information

Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan | 秋葉原ガチャポン会館
Address: 3-15-5 Sotokanda, Chiyoda, Tokyo
Access: 2 min. walk from Suehirocho Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza line. 7 min. walk from Akihabara Station (Electric Town Exit) on the JR Keihin-Tohoku, Yamanote and Chuo-Sobu lines.
Hours: 11:00am-8:00pm Monday to Thursday, 11:00am-10:00pm Friday and Saturday, 11:00am-7:00pm Sunday and holidays
Closed on New Year's Day
Website (Japanese-only): http://www.akibagacha.com/
※This article is based on a coverage from September 14, 2017. 
※Available products in the store change periodically.

About the author
Laura is an Italian living and working in Tokyo. She loves exploring hidden and unknown places, taking pictures and listening to Punk Rock music. When she’s not busy doing the above, she might enjoy a craft beer or play the sanshin (an Okinawan instrument similar to a shamisen).

 

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THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON INFORMATION FROM 09 22,2017 Author:DiGJAPAN! Editorial Team

 

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