Going Gaga Over Gashapon

I have seen my fair share of vending machines that dispense different kinds of miniature toys. A lot of them have cheap toys that do not interest me and seem like a waste of money. I never imagined that in Japan, there are vending machines that dispense beautiful toys made with such detail  that people would go through great lengths to obtain an entire collection, and willing to pay copious amounts of money to own them.

gachaponGashapon (ガシャポン) or gachapon, is a trademark used for Bandai’s capsule toys. “Gasha” or “gacha” refers to the turning of a crank on a vending machine and “pon” is supposedly for the sound of the toy capsule dropping on the machine’s receptacle. The word gashapon  describes the machines that holds the toys as well as the toys in it. There are two types of gashapon: blind-box figures that are sold randomly out of sealed packages instead of a machine, and bottle cap figures (small figures on top of plastic bottle caps), sold in both machines and blind boxes.

Bandai gashapon with coin for scale. | K W Reinsch

Gashapon machines are a lot like regular vending machines found all around Japan. The gashapon capsule toys cost anywhere from 100 to 500 Yen,  less than about$1US to $5US. Most coin-operated vending machines in the U.S. cost less than Japanese gashapon toys, about 50 to 75 cents. But often you get low quality items. Gashapon toys are usually of higher quality. The toys have much more detail in their painted features; the materials used are of better quality such as high-grade PVC plastic and are considered a collector’s item. Gashapon toys are often feature popular characters from video games, some popular icons, manga, anime and even a few American animated characters.

gashapon1

They are usually released in sets and series that have a number of figures to complete the collection. What makes collecting gashapon toys fascinating is the idea that you obtain your collection through blind purchase: you never know what figure you are going to get. You insert a coin into the machine that displays all the possible toys you can get from it and hope that the one you like the most is what falls out onto the receptacle. It can be frustrating and addicting at the same time, a little like gambling.

The rare gashapon toys can fetch a hefty price tag in the adult collectors’ market.  The anime/manga pop culture has greatly influenced gashapon collectors, and the trend of being a gashapon enthusiast has a popular following in Japan and has spread to other parts of the world.

Rows of gashapon. | Stéfan