Gachapon, or capsule toy machines, can be spotted all over Japan in shopping malls, supermarkets, and even on the street. These coin-operated machines are filled with small toys, figurines, and other collectibles, and have been a part of Japanese culture for over 50 years.
Gachapon was first popularized in the 1960s by Ryuzo Shigeta, who is affectionately known as “gacha gacha Oji-san” (grandfather of gacha). While toy vending machines have existed since the 1880s, Shigeta is credited with the idea to encase each toy in the signature plastic balls that have become synonymous with gachapon.
How To Get A Gachapon
The word gachapon is a clever onomatopoeic imitating the sound of a hand crank on a toy vending machine (“gacha”) and the sound of the capsule landing in the collection tray (“pon”). Each gachapon machine displays all the toys belonging to its collection, but the catch is that there’s no way of knowing which you will receive. In this way, gachapon is a bit of a gamble! If you don’t get your top choice, you might feel compelled to keep trying until you nab it. Some gachapon fanatics play until they complete their favorite sets or trade with other collectors for rare items.
Types Of Gachapon
Ranging between 100 yen to 500 yen and up, gachapon is a relatively inexpensive way to experience a small thrill. What’s more, the capsule toys often make for great souvenirs, as there are gachapon machines dedicated to almost every theme imaginable, from Hello Kitty to Avengers.Though gachapon are especially popular with children and young adults, their appeal and addictability extends to people of all ages. It’s not uncommon to see office workers, salarymen, and even elderly people indulging in a little gacha gacha on their lunch break.
Today, there are more than 360,000 gachapon machines throughout Japan that generate an estimated 200 million USD a year. Their success is due in part to the wide variety of gachapon available, which cover everything from anime and manga characters to miniatures of everyday objects, architecture reproductions, and hats for cats. Some of the more bizarre gachapon include underwear for water bottles, corn-themed engagement rings, and ID photos of strangers. There’s even a whole category of creepy-cute items known as “kimokawaii”.
Each month, more than 150 new gachapon machines are released on the market. Drawing upon current trends and the newest pop culture, companies like Bandai and Takara Tomy Arts roll out new collections to coincide with the release of new movies, video games, and anime. Some of Bandai’s licenses include Gundam, Anpanman, Dragonball, and Doraeman, while Takara Tomy Arts works with Sanrio, Pokemon, and Disney.
In recent years, gachapon machines have even been appearing overseas in places like South Korea, Taiwan, China, and the United States. So if you can’t make it to Japan, you might just be able to find your favorite capsule toy closer to home.
Wherever they are placed, gachapon machines showcase a never-ending stream of creative diversity. With such a wide selection and unique purchase method, it’s no wonder that gachapon have become one of Japan’s most beloved (and quirky) cultural exports.
About the author:
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.