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A blog about learning and teaching Japanese, walking Japan, and sometimes about kit-kats.
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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!
Gachapon 「ガチャポン」as a word– if the tale is to be believed– comes from the “gacha gacha” 「ガチャガチャ」sound the machine makes as you turn the crank to release your prize. What people actually call them tends to differ.
From my experience "gachapon" is pretty common, however you’re also likely to see “gashapon"「ガシャポン」 or simply “gacha”「ガチャ」 (which are Bandai and Tomy trademarks, respectively), both of which derive from the same onomatopoeia.
Here's what to expect from your average gachapon machine: a capsule, your prize (in this case a Pokémon pin) and the "here's what you could have won" scrap of paper ↓
So now we know what gachapon is, let's have a look at some of the prizes on offer!
Phone danglers are quite a common find ↓
Those on the left are actually designed to fit onto a bottle cap, which is a trend I'm not sure I understand ↓
Sometimes you'll find something a little more traditional ↓
Souvenir gacha aimed at tourists, which look a bit more like gumball machines ↓
Turns out you can even get watches in gachapon ↓
Deep down I regret not getting a Gudetama watch for 300¥ ↓
Magic sand and pots of slime are pretty common in kid-friendly places ↓
If you're happy to pay a bit more, you might find some of these sofubi (ソフビ "soft plastic") designer toys ↓
Shinkansen themed bags, purses and pouches ↓
Hopefully you'll find some cat hats ↓
...and more cat hats...
...and dog hats...
...and yet more cat hats...
...and cat wings...
...and somehow still find more cat hats!
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!
The capsule of these gachapon are maneki neko (招き猫; Lucky Cat) torsos! ↓
“I’m sold”, you say, metaphorically, “how much do will these fancy-schmancy capsules set me back?”
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!
The only 500¥ gachapon here are these swimsuit-clad women ↓
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).
Narita Airport's terminal 2 wants your coins! (Fun fact: I had to get money out so I could get a few more gacha before heading home) ↓
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! :)