Capsule toys in Japan are never too far from sight. You’ll find them in shopping malls, restaurants and lining the streets of Akihabara’s Electric Town.
Sure, many of us may remember these types of cutesy toys from our childhood, but why are adults in Japan actually paying a few hundred yen for these items once aimed squarely at children? Well, times have changed and these eye-catching machines are not only still relevant but might even be considered a cult phenomenon.
Commonly called gachapon (or gashapon) the name applies to the machine and toys within them while referencing the characteristic sounds of turning the crank (gacha or gacha-gacha) and receiving a toy (pon). Although gachapon are uniquely Japanese, the modern coin-operated prize machines originated in the 1880s. In 1960, Ryuzo Shigeta, now known as “Gacha-gacha Ojisan” (“the Grandfather of Gachapon”) acquired one of these machines and introduced the now iconic plastic capsule holding a prize within — thereby unveiling the world’s first gachapon machine in Tokyo according to “Gachapon: Tracing the evolution of Japan’s colorful toy capsules,” a 2017 Japan Times article. Originally selling monochromatic toys for ¥10 apiece, today’s highly detailed gachapon now cost between ¥200 and ¥500 each.
Clearly, gachapon aren’t new to Japan, but in 2012 the industry exploded with the cute character called “Koppu no Fuchiko” or “Life on the Edge with Fuchiko.”
Since her creation, [Fuchiko] has appeared in more than 1,500 variations and has sold over 20 million units.
The Koppu no Fuchiko series features a carefree OL (office lady) named Fuchiko (fuchi means “edge” in Japanese) precariously hanging in various poses while sitting on the lip of a cup or wherever you see fit to display her. Since her creation, she has appeared in more than 1,500 variations and has sold over 20 million units, according to the same Japan Times article.
With the help of enamored adults, Instagram and 1,394 hashtags for #koppunofuchiko (more than 160,000 tags for it in Japanese), gachapon as a whole quickly gained newfound interest. With this success, the market shifted and manufacturers started peddling them to adults.
Even popular Japan YouTube personalities Rachel and Jun posted a 2017 video about the lure of gachapon after finding some extraordinary hats for cats in one of the machines. While taking on a plethora of forms, gachapon often share similar themes. Here are some common gachapon favorites to look out for and where to find them.
Anime and pop culture
Gachapon and anime are synonymous but what about Japan’s cult phenomenon Pop Team Epic — two profane 14-year-old girls dealing with everyday and surreal situations?
From garbage cans to umbrellas to kerosene tanks — nothing is too big for gachapon to handle! These gachapon replicate standard school lunches over the last century. The detail is immaculate and will clearly bring back nostalgia for lunches long past.
Quirky and the bizarre
Japan, whether rightfully so or not, has earned a reputation as being over the top and at times incomprehensible. Gachapon often relate to everyday situations. Sometimes it’s as simple as a girl being unable to see due to hilarious, and unfortunate, circumstances.
Cats in bags seem innocent enough but when defined testicles are added to the design this gachapon will make anyone take a second look.
Who says gachapon are just for people? A variety of hats specifically designed for your cat have been a raging success. Just ask YouTubers Rachel and Jun’s cats Poki, Nagi and Haku!
Cultural references and satire
Nothing is off limits with gachapon but some commentaries are only appreciated by adults. Have you ever heard of the game Kancho? Simply clasp your hands like a gun, crouch behind your target and poke them in the anus while shouting “Kancho!”
Tradition be damned! Gachapon honors and makes light of traditional Japanese folk items.
Kimokawaii (creepy cute)
A term coined in Japan to describe things that are both gross and yet oddly adorable. It’s pink, it’s squishy and it’s… a Blobfish. It might be disgusting, but I’m sure you’re one of many who may have found this deep-sea creature strangely irresistible.
A few years ago, kimokawaii had a new mascot… the giant isopod. Previously featured in a variety of gachapon, the giant isopod lives on among other sea creatures in this recent installment.
Where to find them in Tokyo
Itching to get your hands on a unique souvenir during your trip to Japan? These won’t be difficult to find as gachapon are all over including the streets of Electric Town in Akihabara, Tokyo. Be sure to visit Akihabara’s famous Gachapon Kaikan that houses hundreds of gachapon which are regularly updated every few weeks.
- Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan | 秋葉原ガチャポン会館
- Address: 3-15-5 Sotokanda, Chiyoda, Tokyo
- By train: From Tokyo station take the Yamanote or Chuo-Sobu line to Akihabara station. It’s about a 7-minute walk from the Electric Town Exit.
- Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon-Thurs, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri-Sat, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun and hols
Where to find them across Japan
Other common places around Japan to find gachapon include:
- Game zones/arcades
- International airports (Departure areas of Tokyo Haneda, Narita and Kansai international airports.)
- Both outside and inside main train stations, as well as outside or in the entrance of Japanese chain restaurants like Coco’s or Café Gusto.
- Select stores such as:
- Loft (this Shibuya location is often stocked with gachapon toys you can simply purchase in a box rather than trying the machine.)
- Larger malls/shopping centers.
- Larger grocery and home goods stores like Aeon, Beshia, Cainz, Joy Hobby, B’s Hobby, etc.
- It is also possible to buy some gachapon toys online. For example, Rakuten has some Fuchiko available here.
Are you a gachapon lover? Why do you enjoy this side of Japanese culture, and do collect any specific series?