< Home

Gotcha!: The Weird and Wonderful World of Gachapon

If you have ever visited Japan, you may have seen gachapon machines in shopping malls, arcades and even in the streets. The name gachapon is actually a combination of two Japanese onomatopoeias: gacha (or gacha-gacha), which refers to the sound of a crank being turned; and pon, which refers to something appearing magically. It works just as its name suggests: players insert coins, turn a crank or a dial, which will push out a prize capsule! The range of prizes these machines have is almost incomprehensible, and as such, children and adults alike find joy in the prizes these machines dispense.

Part of what makes capsule toy vending machines so fun is the unpredictability, as you never know what will pop out of the capsule that has just rolled out of the machine! People can experience a whole rollercoaster of emotions when playing gachapon machines: sadness and disappointment when they get multiples of the same toy, and elation when they get the toy they have been hoping for, or the last piece to complete their collection!

While coin-operated vending machine technology has long since existed in the Western metropolises of London and New York - children in the 1880s could buy postcards and snacks like gumballs from such machines – in the 1960s, Japan began pioneering their own kooky brand of vending machine culture. In 1965, the first gachapon machine was set up by entrepreneur Ryuzo Shigeta at a shop he operated in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. He had first received an American vending machine from a business partner in the United States, but was unimpressed with how the machine would dispense candy and cheap toys at random. Shigeta wanted the prizes to be dispensed more cleanly, and decided to have each prize encased in a plastic shell. And thus, the gachapon machine as we know of it today was born!

At first, gachapon dispensed cheap toys made with scrap plastic for ¥10 or ¥20. They were installed in sweet shops, and around other places where children hang out. Bandai Co. would revolutionise the scene in 1977: the well-established toy manufacturer began selling capsule toys under the trademarked name ‘Gashapon’, and attracted customers with tie-ups with popular brands like Kamen Rider, Ultraman and more. Priced at ¥100 per try, their capsule prizes were 10 times more expensive than their competitors. In spite of that, gachapon machines experienced a huge boom in popularity, largely due to the success of Bandai’s Gashapon machines. Bandai’s tie-ups with a number of popular series to create collectible prizes have led to several booms over the years, and have helped spread the popularity of gachapon machines amongst not just children, but adult collectors and fans of such series.

Certain characters or lines have even come phenomena in their own right. Koppu no Fuchiko, or Fuchiko for short, exploded on the scene in 2012. Fuchiko is a carefree office lady (known as an OL) and machines offered figurines of her in various poses- when placed on the edge of a cup, it will look like she is hanging off a precarious edge. To date, there are over 1,500 variations of Fuchiko figurines that have been sold through gachapon machines! Fuchiko has found an unlikely group of fans in adults, who collect her figurines to spice up pictures of their drinks and bento lunches to post online.

© photoAC

© Buronson and Hara Tetsuo / Coamix © ZUIYO

© Kids Web Japan

© 2009 Ishimori Production, TV Asahi, ADK, Toei Company

© Tanaka Katsuki/KITAN CLUB

The companies manufacturing gachapon machines soon began to expand the range of prizes on offer. Modern machines now dispense phone and bag accessories, stationery, pet clothes, and office necessities amongst other things, in innumerable designs. Designs can be straightforward- miniature figurines of vehicles or popular anime characters; or absolutely outlandish- crunchy slime, mirrors that recreate the screens of livestreamers, or figurines of characters that are more kowai (scary) than kawaii (cute).

One machine operating company has even put jewellery in their machines: with just 1,000 yen, buyers can turn a dial at capsule machines in 30 locations across Japan to get handcrafted jewellery, such as necklaces and bracelets, adorned with a high quality Akoya pearl! This particular idea was born out of a pearl company’s desire to reach out to a larger market and stimulate more sales of Akoya pearls, seeing as traditional sales have fallen in recent years.

Nowadays, you can find stores specialising in gachapon machines all over Japan. These stores features rows upon rows of machines, each dedicated to different varieties of capsule toys. The most famous of these specialist stores is Gachapon Kaikan. Located in the heart of Akihabara, this legendary store has entertained visitors for nearly 20 years with an array of over 500 gachapon machines. The legendary status of this store has even spread overseas, with half of its clientele being non-Japanese visitors. New, unique designs are constantly being released in Japan, with some designs (especially those that are produced as part of collaborations with popular series) having a limited production run. It is no wonder then, that fans of certain series and gachapon enthusiasts in general would come from all over the world to try their hand at these machines; after all, they may leave with a rare collectible!

© Yamade Takashi, Nose Hirofumi and Okuno Tadashi

© Japan Up Close, Web Japan

© photoAC

Of course, with how popular gachapon machines are, manufacturers have also exported machines worldwide. In Singapore, it is common to see several of such machines lined up at places like shopping malls! The next time you pass one a machine when you are out and about, we hope you remember its humble beginnings as a simple vending machine and how creative trailblazers in Japan turned it into a global phenomenon!

And if you have spare change, why not see what kind of weird or wonderful prize the gachapon machine will dispense for you?


Capsule Toys. Retrieved 30 September 2021, from https://web-japan.org/kidsweb/cool/10-03-25-01/index.html
Dietderich, M. (2018). Gachapon: Japan’s Irresistible Capsule Toys You Never Knew You Needed. Retrieved 30 September 2021, from https://blog.gaijinpot.com/gachapon-japans-irresistible-capsule-toys-you-never-knew-you-needed/
Hornyak, T. (2017). Gachapon: Tracing the evolution of Japan's colorful toy capsules. Retrieved 30 September 2021, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2017/08/19/lifestyle/gachapon-tracing-evolution-japans-colorful-toy-capsules/
Web Japan. (2016). Capsule Toys Not Just for Children [Video]. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-sXrWQtYb0

< Home

Japan Creative Centre

4 Nassim Road, Singapore 258372
+65 6737 0434 / jcc@sn.mofa.go.jp
Nearest parking at Orchard Hotel & Delphi Orchard