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Mon, 8 Apr ’13

Go Figure: Japan’s Gashapon Craze

When it comes to these figures, they’re not toying around.

We’ve all begged our parents for a quarter or two to buy some useless tchotchke from a gum ball machine on our way out of the grocery store, but did you know that Japan has their own special kind of capsule toy machine with a growing fan base of collectors? They call it gashapon. Because everything is more fun when it comes in a plastic egg.

Technically a trademark of toy titan Bandai, gashapon has become known as a catch-all term for any Japanese capsule toy. The word stems from the Japanese words for “crank” (gasha) and the sound of the toy dropping into the receptacle slot (pon). The phrase is meant to describe both the toys and the colorful machines they come out of. Japanese gashapon can be priced anywhere between one and five dollars, making for higher quality toys but highly upset parents (with significantly lighter wallets). Most collector toys are released in a way to drive up interest (and price), and gashapon are no different. Most gashapon are released in limited sets or “waves”, meaning the completionst collector has a checklist of figures to try to obtain.

What kind of toys can you expect to get out of a traditional gashapon machine? Walking the streets and storefronts of Japan, one can find gashapon for everything from One Piece to Pokemon, with most well known cartoon and video game characters being well represented as well. American toy companies quickly mimicked the smart, successful way to market inexpensive toys to kids stuck on shopping trips and modern western “capsule toy machines” look almost identical to their Japanese counterparts. At the head of the trend is American company Kidrobot, taking the capsule toy concept outside the machine and transforming the idea of blind box collectible figurines into a multi-million dollar industry. So the next time you ask your folks for a quarter at the store, tell them it’s for “market research.”

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