If you are visiting Japan you will inevitably see Gashapon (or Gachapon) machines lined up outside shops, in doorways, actually you are probably standing next to one right now!
You may have seen these small machines outside toy shops and in cinema foyers in the UK for a few years now and thought of them as just something for kids to spend their pocket money on. But you would be wrong. In Japan they are much more than just toys for kids, people of all ages buy and collect Gashapon.
From china cups, hair bands, rubbers, torches, key rings, buzzers, pin badges, action figures, you name it, you can probably find one in a Gashapon.
On pretty much every street corner and outside every shop in Tokyo you will find a few Gashapon Machines. And in some department stores you will see whole banks or even floors of these machines, sometimes more. Many are based on popular Manga cartoons or comics. The prices range from 100 yen to 600 yen for the more complicated items. Each machine contains a different collectable item or toy so it can sometimes take quite a while to decide which one you like the look of the best. And there is normally a gaggle of Japanese school kids, all looking smart in their school uniforms hanging around having a look as well.
The name Gashapon or Capsule toy as they are otherwise known comes from the sound the toy makes leaving the machine, ‘Gacha’ the cranking noise you make when turning the handle and ‘Pon’ from the sound of the capsule falling down.
It’s a fairly simple idea and there is a bit of luck as to which item you get, but that is half the fun. You simply insert your money, turn the handle and a random capsule toy drops from the machine. The capsules range in size from something like a golf ball, up to some as large as a tennis ball. Inside the capsule will be your toy, a bit like a kinder egg, but much better quality and without the unhealthy chocolate.
Each capsule contains a random toy from the collection so collecting a whole series of figures is a bit of a hit and miss affair. But once you have a go and see how good the items you get are, it’s very hard to walk by a row of machines without checking them out. On the last day of our trips to Tokyo I normally end up filling the bin in the hotel room with empty capsules as I’m trying to fit as much as I can into my already over flowing suitcase.
On my last trip to Tokyo, in a small backstreet in Ikebukuro we even came a across a machine filled with SD memory cards for 300 yen. So 900 yen later we walked away with a 1 gb, 512mb and 256mb memory cards!
Akihabara is a pretty good place to go for a full range of Gashapon machines covering all the different lines of toys. Pretty much every shop there has a machine or two near their front doors, and many have large selections inside. But you have to remember to go upstairs as most shops are split over many small floors. Yodobashi Akiba, a huge 9 floor electronics shop opposite the JR Akihabara station has one of the largest selections of Gashapon machines I have seen in one place.
If you feel the need to complete your collection but can’t face getting a random figure, then your best bet is to take a trip to Nakano (Chuo line from Shinjuku), here on the second floor of the Nakano Broadway mall you will find a huge selection of shops that sell all manner of toys and collectables. Many of the shops sell the capsule toys loose so you can complete your set or buy the specific one you want.
When looking for what Gashapon to collect I try to look for items that you wouldn't find anywhere else in the world, so something typically Japanese, or items from big franchises. There are often Star Wars, Transformers, Gatchaman or Power Ranger lines available, and these will always be popular. But make sure to hunt down the limited edition item in each set as these are the ones everyone will want.
At some point I’m hoping this craze will kick of in a bigger way here in the UK. Until then I will keeping saving up my 100 yen coins for my next trip to Japan.
Originally published at rareburg.com, 2015