This week - a guest post from Step Up Japanese student David Sharp!
If you follow me (Fran) on twitter you might know David as the creator of the bot that spits insults - and occasional compliments - at me if I fail to upload a blog post every week.
In an attempt to silence the twitter bot this week, I convinced David - who has just come back from a trip to Japan - to write a blog post for me instead. Over to you Dave!
I have a bit of a gachapon obsession. There are so many things I love about Japan, but my eyes light up when I see a gachapon machine. I’ve got a sixth sense specifically dedicated to locating gachapon machines and you can guarantee I’ll make a beeline for it, or forever regret not seeing what mysteries they might hold. There’s something very Japanese about gachapon: compact, transient, novel and convenient.
But let’s back up for a second – what is gachapon?
A gachapon machine is a small box, with a mechanism a bit like a gumball machine that dispenses little plastic capsules with some sort of ‘prize’ in them. You’ll usually see them stacked two or three high and accompanied by some either side. You may even find them stretching out across an entire wall, or filling up what might otherwise be wasted space.
To operate them is pretty simple: drop the correct coins into the coin slot and then turn the crank on the front, after a few turns your prize will drop out!
So now we know what gachapon is, let's have a look at some of the prizes on offer!
In the contents of gachapon machines, there is a spectrum of target audiences and of usefulness, but one thing all the prizes have in common is the capsule they come in (hence sometimes being referred to as “capsule toys” 「カプセルトイ」)
“But, David”, I hear you say, “if you’re buying so many gachapon, what happens to all the empty capsules?”
Well, while not entirely universal, most places you’ll be able to get gachapon will also have a little basket or bin to dispose of your unwanted capsules.
But if you do find yourself taking them away with you, Bandai’s capsules are all recyclable, and most others will at least be half recyclable. Occasionally though you’ll find a capsule toy where you should keep hold of the capsule, because the capsule is the toy!
Gachapon machines (almost) always only accept 100¥ coins, so will cost a multiple of 100¥. A price tag of 300¥ is most common (approx. £2, at the time of writing) but you’ll likely see a lot of 200¥ and 400¥ machines too.
You might also stumble across a 500¥ gachapon machine, in which case don’t be surprised if it’s bordering on risque!
While it’s certainly a matter of opinion, individual gachapon prizes tend to be good value for money. No matter how goofy a gachapon purchase may be, I find it difficult to be disappointed in the prize! Say you find a machine full of cute phone danglers; the quality will be comparable to one you might buy in a souvenir shop, but for cheaper!
However, if there’s one you’re really keen to own, or you want to collect the whole set, you run the risk of ending up with a lot of duplicates! (Although I’m sure you’ll be able to find an unsuspecting friend to offload them onto as “thoughtful gifts” from your travels.)
If you see a machine full of trinkets that you must have in your life and are keen on collecting a whole set– or there’s only one in a set you like the look of and don’t want to risk winning a dud– you may be able to buy it elsewhere. Akihabara, for example, has a number of shops that sell rows and rows of loose figures usually with very little markup (sometimes you’ll practically just be paying the tax). However, something truly sought after might set you back up to double what you would’ve paid for from the machine!
But now you've booked your flights to Japan and you're wondering “Where can I even find gachapon?”
Everywhere! Although they’re not as common as vending machines, you’ll find gachapon at tourist attractions, train stations, airports, convenience stores, arcades, shopping areas, department stores, sometimes even in temples. The beauty of gachapon is that you don’t need to dedicate a chunk of your day searching for them, or venture too far out of your way to find them. While there are dedicated stores you could keep an eye out for, the truth is there’s such a variety that over your trip you’ll hopefully stumble upon a wide range of potential prizes. (That said– if, at the end of your trip, you find yourself at Narita Airport’s Terminal 2 with pockets full of leftover coins, they have a huge selection just outside the 7-Eleven).
Find David and tell him what your favourite gachapon prize is at davidsharp.codes. Or check out more of his Japan pics (including even more gachapon photos!) on his instagram.
P.S. Would you like to write a guest blog post for Step Up Japanese? Get in touch! :)