What is Gachapon (or Gashapon)? As you’ve been living in Japan for a while now, it’s likely you’ve already seen it when walking the streets in Japan. Known as the capsule toy vending machines, Gachapon can be found almost everywhere—around the corners, on the streets and outside stores.
The Unique Japanese Culture that is Gachapon
Input some coins and crank the machine, wait for the small plastic ball with great anticipation, and then comes the most exciting part—open the capsule and find out what’s inside. If there’s something specific you are looking for, you’ll need to be lucky to get what exactly you want on your first spin.
Why is it Called “Gachapon”?
Gachapon, meaning both the capsule toys and the machine, got its name due to the special sound the machine makes during the toys come out. The sound of the machine handle being cracked is the “Gacha-gacha” and when the ball drops out from the machine it makes a resounded “Pon”. This gave birth to the name “Gachapon.”
The History of Gachapon
The first vending machine using coins in the modern world can be traced back to 1880s, selling postcards and gum in New York and London. However, even though the capsule toy machine first appeared overseas, Gachapon is uniquely Japanese. In the 1960s, Ryuzo Shigeta, later known as “the Grandfather of Gachapon,” set up the first Gachapon machine in Japan with each product in a plastic ball. Later in 1977, the Gachapon industry was revolutionized by the toy giant Bandai Co. by trademarking Gachapon.
What is Inside Gachapon?
If you think Gachapon only caters to manga, anime or game lovers, you may totally be wrong. Although the first impression of Gachapon is linked to miniature figures of manga, anime or game characters, literally almost anything can come out from the Gachapon machine nowadays, ranging from different sets of miniatures of Sushi to a variety of hats designed for cats. Recently, more and smaller items which can be put around your computer, smartphone, cup or desk are popular to be found in Gachapon, attracting ordinary people to join the “Gacha.”
(Animals in Onsen)
(One Plate Lunch Set)
(Traditional Japanese Culture)
With a price of less than 500 yen, you can get little figures of characters from popular anime or manga such Pokemon and Gundam. Some are even from the nostalgic old series which remind people of their childhood. For people who do not watch anime to enjoy Gachapon, there are also a lot of non-character products, including animals, Japanese food, items designed based on traditional Japanese culture, Japanese artwork and traditional folk crafts such as Manekinako.
The Heaven of Gachapon
Akihabara is the place where you definitely should visit to explore Japan’s unique Gachapon culture. There is even a specialty store of Gachapon there. Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan, known as the heaven of Gachapon, has around 500 Gachapon machines. The store changes and updates the categories of Gachapon from time to time. You can always find what you want there! The shop welcomes Gachapon lovers every day (except New Year’s Day).
Besides Akihabara, Shinjuku and Shibuya are other alternatives where you can go for Gachapon. Gachapon can also be found at other places such as airports, main train stations, restaurants, shopping malls or some chain stores in Japan. Nowadays, it is also possible buy some Gachapon toys online; but why forgo the fun part?
Why is Gachapon Culture So Popular?
Of course, it is attractive to get a small toy related to your favorite manga, anime, games, etc. by paying only 100 to 500 yen, especially when the toys are becoming more and more high-quality and sometimes limited-edition. It is also a great chance to bring some unique Japanese gifts and souvenirs home, in a cheap but fun way.
The small plastic ball doesn’t only contain a toy, but also a tiny space to hold the Japanese culture. Various Gachapon come together to make rows of Gachapon machines arranging along the streets, displaying the diversity of Japanese culture.
Next time when you walk pass by a Gachapon machine, have a try, and start your exploration of Japanese culture with the small capsule toy in your hand!
- Kotowaza: The Art of Mastering Japanese Proverbs
- Top 5 Japanese Traditions You Must Try
- Gairaigo: All You Need to Know About Loanwords in Japanese
This article was originally published on March 10, 2019 and edited and republished on November 10, 2021.