Every day holds the potential for an all-ages Easter egg hunt with these capsule vending machines.
Are you a collector? A lover of charming knickknacks and adorable objects? Then you probably already know that Japan has the cute market firmly cornered, but if you’ve never had a chance to hit the island country in person, you may not know about the quirky phenomenon that is most frequently called Gachapon (ガチャ ポン): small vending machines that dispense toys in egg-shaped plastic containers.
At first glance, the machines might seem similar to the coin-operated toy dispensers we see in the West, but don’t be fooled. For one, even the trademarked name Gachapon is more fun than the English version. Also sometimes called Gashapon, the name is inspired by the machine’s fun sounds. Gacha is the sound of the machine crank turning, and pon is the sound of the egg dropping into the chute and your hot little hands.
The machines are coin-operated and each egg costs between ¥100 and ¥500, but unlike the trinkets in Western toy machines, these eggs are full of relatively high-quality, often limited-edition figurines made of PVC plastic, with detailed moulding and careful paint jobs—the rarest among them even become high-value collector’s items. You can buy capsule toy figures from your favourite manga or video games, or even J-pop idols, and the figurines range from adorable tiny Pikachu to terrifying, long-haired mini Sadakos from The Ring. The impressive range of characters ensures that these toys are appealing to kids and adults of all ages, and part of the fun is the challenge of trying to collect a full set.
But what really sets capsule toys apart is the more unexpected selections— like a mind-boggling range of beanies for your pet cat or costume hats for your dog. How about giving your fingers a workout with some Finger Up exercise equipment? If you don’t feel like working out your digits on the tiniest workout bench in the world, there are plenty of other options. You can forgo coasters and buy a full set of capsule machine underwear for your water bottle, or give your juice bottle a high-class touch with a set of sweaters tossed around its non-existent shoulders. And these machines can be found all over the country, in restaurants, gaming arcades and cafés. If you have a chance to go to Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan—or capsule toy alley—you can take your pick of over 400 different machines.
These days, capsule toy makers are innovating to keep up with the times, and toy company Bandai has started making Net de Capsule, remotely operated machines that deliver toys to collectors’ doorsteps. This might be appealing for people who want to avoid the crowds, but for most, the treasure-hunt experience is part of the charm.
Good things come in small capsules
Impress your friends by getting a full set from limited-edition, themed capsule machines.
Do NOT shake the machine
Especially ¥100 coins, because you can’t buy these babies with bills or credits cards
Illustrations by Reiko Ema