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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogGashapon: The Japanese Mystery Of Colorful Capsule Toys!  

Gashapon: The Japanese Mystery Of Colorful Capsule Toys!  

Bianca BacheBianca Bache
Published Time
Posted on 
December 01, 2022
A big stack of gashapon (capsule toy) machines. They are yellow.

Gashapon (also known as “gachapon”) is not just a cheap thrill to blow a few hundred yen on (2-3 USD). It’s a way to get a sense of enjoyment and delight. It allows kawaii lovers, anime enthusiasts and collectible fans a chance to gamble and win heartwarming memorabilia. 

Gashapon capsule toy machines can be found dotted around Japan. Places like train stations, arcade buildings, supermarkets, convenience stores and sometimes even in places you would least expect them – like toilets have them! The circular balls of surprise created a sense of excitement, especially for anime fans! As you can always find your favorite characters as adorable keychains, phone straps and various miniature figurines. 

Rows of Gashapon machines
You can find rows of gashapon machines in Japan. Image via Shutterstock

Where gashapon get its name 

Although it may be a bit confusing, gashapon is also known as gachapon, gatchapon and gacha-gacha. No one is more correct than the other, so it’s up to you on your preferred spelling! Whatever you decide to call them in the end they are all capsule toys! So, how did gashapon get its name? 

The name is linked to the special sound the machine makes when it is dispensing the toy. The sound of the machine crank handle being turned is the “gasha-gasha” noise. When the ball drops out from the machine it creates the “pon” sound. Put the two onomatopoeia words together and you have gashapon! 

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Balls of gashapon
The iconic colorful circular balls from gashapon machines also make a great collectors item! Image via Shutterstock

The history of the capsule toy 

There is a bit of uncertainty about when exactly the first coin vending machine appeared. It is thought that in the 1880’s in New York and London the machines sold postcards and gum. Even though the capsule machine can be traced to other overseas countries, gashapon is uniquely Japanese. During the 1960’s Ryuzo Shigeta set up the first gashapon machine in Japan. Later adorned as “the Grandfather of Gashapon”, Shigeta established the idea and crafted the capsule plastic balls we still use today. 

Later in 1977 the gashapon industry was revolutionized again by toy giant Bandai, who trademarked the word Gachapon. Over the last 45 years gashapon has relatively stayed the same in the general idea. But has exploded in creativity, uniqueness and ingenuity. Establishing the cult following it has today for both local and Western tourists. 

Akihabara  city view of tall anime buildings
Akihabara is the central hub for all things anime, arcade and gashapon related! Image via Shutterstock

The gashapon epicenter

Now, although you can find a multitude of gashapon toys and machines across Japan, you can visit hubs that have gashapon stacked upon gashapon! The gacha shops carry a wide range of gashapon capsules. From anime items, stickers, paperweights, miniature food replicas, humanoids animals, all the way to seedling pot plants! 

One of the most popular centers to visit is in Akihabara, Tokyo. Akihabara is known for being the epicenter of all things anime and arcade related. You can visit Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan (Hall), where you’ll find over 500 hundred, yes 500 HUNDRED gacha machines! That is enough capsule vending machines to reach the ceiling. There you can find the store filled to the brim with exciting Japanese toys. It is guaranteed that no matter how many times you visit, you are sure to find something new every time! 

Japan gashapon person turning the handle
With a few 100 yen coins, and a twist of the handle you can have a new prized possession! Image via Shutterstock

Why is gashapon popular?

Through the years the hype around gachapon has not really died down, some would even say it has increased! On the surface it is easy to see why it’s popular. Who doesn’t love a small toy related to your favorite anime, manga, games, or idol singer? With such a low price tag attached to the happiness of sliding a few hundred yen coins into the gachapon machine the player gets a sense of joy. The high quality and often limited edition items are a great chance to grab a little slice of Japan. The uniquely Japanese toys create great souvenirs and gifts to bring home. 

For locals, having an increasing collection of miniature items is the perfect way to support something they love, as well as seeing something cute everyday! 

What type of gashapon would you like to see in Japan? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Author avatar
Bianca Bache

Tokyo based writer that's very enthusiastic about snacks, treats and all things sweet!

1 Responses

John P says
December 04, 2022, 11:43 PM

I fondly remember getting prizes from the “quarter machines” here in the US when I was younger. Sadly, they have become exceedingly rare. I would love to see gashapon become a thing here in the US! What a fun thing! 🙂

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