The Gachapon Machine
The popularity of gachapon toys (also known as gatcha-gacha) is undeniable. These small toys inspired by popular manga, anime and games are affordable, high-quality and often limited edition.
Rows of Gachapon machines line the streets in Japan, with each machine displaying a different selection. While you cannot predict what you’ll get, the mystery is part of the fun!
What is a Gashapon Machine?
Whether you’re an anime fan, a video gamer, or just interested in Japanese culture, chances are you have seen these little machines popping up all over the place. Known as Gachapon, these machines are everywhere in Japan—not just inside entertainment venues and shopping malls but also along streets and outside stores.
They look like gumball or Gashapon Machine cheap vending machines in the West, but with one major difference: the capsule toys or trinkets they dispense are not low-quality. In fact, they’re often quite high-quality and have an artistic appeal thanks to Japan’s culture of monozukuri (the principle that a product should be as perfect as possible).
Gachapon started with an American machine in the 1880s and has evolved ever since. The modern day Gachapon was invented in the 1960s by Ryuzo Shigeta, who improved a regular vending machine by placing each product into a plastic ball. His invention revolutionized the industry, and in 1977, Bandai trademarked Gachapon.
Nowadays, there are tons of different kinds of Gachapon available. From small figurines and keychains to seedling pot plants, there is a lot to choose from. You can even find whole areas stacked wall-to-wall with the machines, such as Akihabara in Tokyo or the cute character cafes in Kyoto’s Kansai region. Many people buy the sets of figurines that are released each year, which are usually cheaper than buying them individually.
How to Use a Gashapon Machine
The gachapon (pronounced gacha-pon) machines are everywhere in Japan, dispensing toys and trinkets from small plastic capsules. Unlike the gumball machines or cheap vending machine items that are found in the West, these capsules dispense higher-quality merchandise.
To use the machine, insert coins until you reach the value displayed on the machine, then twist the handle and watch your capsule toy drop down. There are several different types of machines with varying prices and prizes, but most cost between 100 and 500 yen per toy. Some even take smartphones or rechargeable IC cards, making them convenient and accessible to travelers without access to cash or credit.
Some of the most popular gachapon toys include anime and manga characters like Naruto and One Piece, or food items, such as ice cream cones and sushi rolls. Some are limited edition and can only be obtained from specific gachapon sets, which makes them highly sought after by collectors.
In addition to being a fun pastime, gachapon toys make great gifts for friends and family. The variety of products and their low price tag means that anyone can afford to snag a few treasures. These cute collectibles are also a great way to experience the Japanese concept of “monozukuri,” or creating something that is both functional and beautiful. The craftsmanship is obvious from the moment you open the case.
Where to Find Gashapon Machines in Japan
The variety of items you can find in a gachapon machine varies by location, but there are some places that are especially popular among collectors. In addition to classic toys like anime characters, you can also find comical animal figures and miniature versions of Japanese food items. Some of these are even made by iconic snack brands! These toys are a great way to block out the noise of daily life and focus on the fantasy inside your head. They are especially popular with young children and adults who love collecting toys.
Gachapon machines are all over Japan and can be found anywhere from train stations to shopping malls. You can also find them in front of some game arcades. If you want to see a lot of machines at once, check out the Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan, a store that is wall-to-wall with these machines.
Anime and manga-themed gachapon are the most popular, but you can find other themes as well. There are even some gachapon that look like real-life things! For example, one company makes a series of miniature tools and kitchen appliances that are so realistic that they might be mistaken for the real thing. Gashapon Machine Another company makes a series of miniature temple bells that are perfect for helping to calm nerves or worries.
Each year, several new gachapon sets are released in Japan. Toy companies like Bandai and Takara Tomy Arts create new designs by drawing on current trends and pop culture. They work with companies like Gundam, Anpanman, Doraemon, and Disney to produce collectibles based on their characters. These products are a fun way to show your love of a movie, video game, or idol singer.
What to Expect from a Gashapon Machine
Gashapon machines resemble gumball or cheap vending machine designs found in the West. They accept coins, are easy to use, and offer a unique souvenir or gift option in Japan. While the small plastic toys that come from a gachapon machine may be considered cheap in the West, they are actually of high quality. This is due to the “otaku” culture present in Japan, which values and reveres any merchandise related to popular anime or manga. Many of these toys are even limited-edition or character sets.
The variety of merchandise is what makes gachapon so popular. Toys and trinkets range from anime characters to food, insects, and other common objects. Each machine will also have a different theme, such as an arcade, a specific food, or a particular cartoon or video game. Some even have a specific area in a city such as Akihabara.
It is recommended to survey all the machines in an area before deciding which to get. There is no guarantee that you will get the toy you want, but this is half the fun of it! Buying a set will eliminate this risk, but can often be much more expensive than simply inserting coins into each machine. Regardless, a gachapon experience is a must for anyone traveling to Japan.