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Tracing back the origin of the toy and its use in the past

While capsule toys originated overseas, gachapon are uniquely Japanese. Capsule cornucopia If you grew up in North America, chances are you raided your piggy bank to feed gumball and capsule toy machines made by Oak Manufacturing, Beaver Machine and other manufacturers. For a fistful of quarters, you could go home with a jawbreaker in your cheek and a pocketful of miniature playing cards, die-cast animals, toy soldiers, rubber monsters and other novelties.

Then you grew up and forgot all about the trinkets you once coveted. In Japan, however, childhood seems to enjoy an extended lease. And gachapon are loved by kids of all ages: Akihabara is a mecca for otaku geeks, a moveable feast of subculture products, and gachapon can easily be overlooked in the riot of anime and electronics. At Gachapon Kaikan, a legendary specialist shop that has been around for about 16 years, there are some 500 gachapon machines and 60 percent of its clientele are non-Japanese.

There are gachapon sushi, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, dinosaurs, trains, insects, Tokyo Towers, manekineko cats, daruma dolls, Mount Fujis and samurai. And then there are the progressively wacky gachapon. Humble beginnings to big brands While modern, coin-operated vending machines selling postcards and gum date to 1880s London and New York, the zany, freewheeling culture that is gachapon began with an entrepreneur named Ryuzo Shigeta, known today as Gacha-gacha Ojisan.

In the 1960s, Shigeta and his brother had been exporting cheap goods to the United States and a partner there sent them an American vending machine known as a bulk vendor.

Shigeta found that unsanitary and frustrating, and had a brainwave: Why not encase each product in a plastic shell? For the next 10 years, gachapon featured cheap novelties made with scrap plastic. Manufacturers such as Konno Sangyo Co. Founded in 1950, Bandai was a trailblazer in gachapon. That gamble paid off in spectacular fashion.

On the back of Gundam, Kamen Rider, Ultraman and other popular brands, Gashapon lifted capsule toys to new heights and Bandai sold an astonishing 3. The company says it has some 360,000 vending machines across Japan and claims a roughly 70 percent market share; it has some 20,000 elsewhere in Asia.

Hand-carved in Japan as prototypes, then manufactured and hand-painted in China, the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia, Gashapon lead a brief retail existence. Popular Gashapon can sell out in a week or two; while some see repeat production runs, the vast majority are done after only one batch.

History of the camera

The three booms There have been three gachapon booms. The first was in 1983 with the launch of Kinniku Man Keshigomu; Bandai sold more than 180 million units of the polyvinyl chloride muscleman erasers in over 400 varieties. The second boom began in the mid-1990s with the appearance of full color, detailed Gashapon figures such as the SD Gundam series.

This attracted an increasingly adult clientele, especially collectors and fans of anime and manga. Meanwhile, gachapon have grown more sophisticated, with intricate items that require assembly. Gashapon machines were at first large and clunky and delivered the capsule to a basket at the bottom. While originally confined to dagashiya neighborhood candy shops and the roofs of department stores, gachapon are now found everywhere, from street corners, convenience stores, supermarkets and electronics retailers to train stations, airports, tourist spots and locations such as Gashapon Street in Tokyo Station.

Capsules themselves have changed little over the years from the original design of connecting halves, one of polypropylene and the other of polystyrene.

  • The "video floppy" disks later had several reader devices available for viewing on a screen, but were never standardized as a computer drive;
  • That gamble paid off in spectacular fashion.

In recent years, however, Bandai introduced polypropylene-only versions that can be recycled more easily. It also launched cylindrical capsules to accommodate larger products, as well as capsules that form the toy itself, such as the head of Doraemon or a Zaku robot from the Gundam franchise.

A standout gachapon in recent years and one of the drivers of the third boom has been Koppu no Fuchiko. Launched in 2012 and designed by manga artist Katsuki Tanaka, Fuchiko has been a smash hit among all capsule toys, with sales of 20 million units and more than 1,500 variations of her in various poses, wearing everything from Hawaiian dresses to Shinto robes.

Waki Kaiyama is an author, TV and radio personality from Sendai whose business card features a cartoonish drawing of him holding a capsule and a gachapon machine.

Kaiyama began collecting in 1977, the year Gashapon hit the streets, and is still going strong 40 years later. He now has an unbelievable 100,000 capsule toys and is known as the top gachapon collector in Japan. Kaiyama became addicted to the capsule toy drug through his grandmother, who ran a dagashiya candy shop with gachapon.

When his parents were splitting up, she took him in. While other kids would buy them and eventually toss them out, he held on to them. A collector was born. Collector Waki Kaiyama has around 100,000 capsule toys. He even has an old capsule toy vending machine to show off. You can see how such silly products are being made and perhaps find encouragement for your own ideas.

For instance, Hiroaki Haba of capsule toy maker Takara Tomy Arts created a series of richly detailed salarymen figurines called Kakkoi Ossan that are engaged in uncharacteristic action poses such as firing guns or baring washboard abs, all while keeping their neckties, glasses and comb-overs intact.

The result was a hit gachapon for 2016. I hope this form of Japanese culture will spread overseas. Depending on demographics and trademarks, however, people may use a different term.