Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro: Make Your Way Through 3,000 Capsule Machines!
When visiting Japan, you’ve likely spotted “gashapon” (also known as gachapon or capsule toy) machines on the roadside or in other places. Sometimes there’s just a few, while other places have loads all in one spot. Seeking out the motherlode for our aptly titled "Area of Japan" series, our otaku writer and her friend went over to the subculture haven of Tokyo’s Ikebukuro to check out "Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro,” which opened in February 2021 in Sunshine City. Boasting over 3,000 gashapon machines, from popular anime to miniature figurines and more, it didn’t take long before their wallets were emptied! If you’re searching for the latest Japanese capsule toys, or even just for a unique souvenir for a loved one, this is where to find them!
Jul 08 2022 (Jul 20 2022)
What Is Gashapon?
Gashapon are machines that randomly dispense small capsule toys. Simply insert a coin, turn the handle, and your capsule appears. Many believe they were inspired by American gumball machines. The name “gashapon” comes from the Japanese onomatopoeia of the handle being turned and the capsule dropping, which sounds like “gasha” and “pon” respectively.
Japanese toy manufacturer Bandai trademarked the name "gashapon." In 1977, they released the first 100 yen gashapon machine, called the BVM100. Then in the 1980s, Bandai introduced figurines from the popular manga Kinnikuman as gashapon. This became a hot topic in the plastic toy market at the time, when the average price for a figurine was around 20 yen, and ignited the gashapon boom.
Products come and go quickly in the world of gashapon. Once a gashapon sells out, they disappear from the market, and the exact same toy is rarely manufactured again. Popular toys are bought up quickly, and even if you wait until the next day, they may already be stocking a new product. In Japan, they say “buyer's remorse lasts three days, but the regret of missing out lasts three years.” So, if you find a toy you like, don’t hesitate to turn the handle!
Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro: A Guinness World Record Holder for the Most Capsule Toy Vending Machines at a Single Venue
Diehard gashapon fans often spend days searching for the toy they want. If this sounds like you, we suggest making a bee-line for Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro, located on the 3rd floor of Sunshine City. Opened in 2021 by Bandai Namco, this gashapon megastore is frequented by Japanese pop culture lovers all over Tokyo, including me!
2022 marks the 45th anniversary of Bandai’s first gashapon machine, and to celebrate, the pioneering BVM100 and other successive gashapon products are currently on display by the entrance. Plus, Bandai’s newest invention, the “Gashapon Odyssey (Gashapon of the Future)” is open for a limited time, allowing customers to experience the history of gashapon.
Stepping into Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro, you’ll be blown away by the endless rows of gashapon machines. There are over 3,000 of them, earning it the Guinness World Record for the most capsule toy vending machines at a single venue in 2021.
The 3,000 machines are spread over a spacious 1256 m², making it easy to feel overwhelmed! However, the machines are neatly organized by genre, ensuring easy navigation.
During our visit in May 2022, the “Premium Gashapon” section was closest to the entrance, flaunting the latest and highest quality Bandai products. Venturing further in, we passed by gashapon with the latest hit anime, animal figurines, popular characters, and products trending on social media. With such a staggering range, you’ll seldom have trouble finding the items you want!
The best way to enjoy your time at Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro is by starting at the entrance and working your way around. If you have a particular item in mind, show an image of it to the staff, and they’ll help guide you - although they may occasionally not be able to find it. As gashapon are simple, you don’t need any Japanese ability to enjoy them, guaranteeing fun for all kinds of people.
The majority of customers here are women and families. While many visit for their children, you’ll often spot parents getting into it too!
Let’s Try Out Some Gashapon Machines!
Setting our eyes upon the dazzling lineup, we were unable to resist and immediately got our gashapon game on. Let's take a look at what we got!
*Product information is from May 2022.
Onigiringu 5 (400 yen)
These gashapon toys resemble real onigiri rice balls, and if you open them up, you’ll find a ring shaped like classic onigiri fillings. The hilarious “Onigiringu” are one of the most popular items at Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro, and the collection has expanded from traditional triangle onigiri to round onigiri, and more.
I'm a big fan of “weird Japan” humor, and have collected Onigiringu since the first series. This time, I got the “Red Rice Onigiri” with a ring of adzuki beans inside. While strange at first glance, after careful inspection, I was deeply impressed by the extraordinary attention to detail, like the realistic sheen on the boiled beans. My friend really liked it and jokingly said that he'd happily wear it to work.
Encyclopedia of Animals: Crab 02 (500 yen)
The Encyclopedia of Animals series boasts a stunning range of creatures, from insects to sealife and more, all painstakingly recreated to look as realistic as possible. It is particularly popular with curious, animal-loving children.
As I personally love eating crab, I opted for the crab machine and won a Japanese spider crab! This toy has 28 movable joints and requires assembly. The instruction book says the legs simply need to be attached after separating the left and right. However, it’s trickier than it looks - you’ll no doubt feel a sense of pride after putting it all together. Animal lovers, don’t miss out on this series!
1/12 Gashapon Station (300 yen)
To celebrate the 45th anniversary of gashapon, miniature models of both new and retro machines are now available as capsule toys! Not knowing what generation or color comes out is half the fun. I was lucky enough to get the first generation BVM100 on my first try!
These models also need to be assembled. While easier than the crab mentioned above, the parts are small, so take care. Like the real thing, they have a turnable handle that shoots out capsules. Put it on your desk to play with and destress between tasks, or use it to help you make decisions when unsure! It’s surprisingly useful!
Talking Toilet Button (400 yen)
Recently, sound-making gashapon toys have become trendy, like school chimes, bicycle bells, and front door intercoms. The manager of Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro explained, “Normally, you can't just play with your home intercom whenever you want. But with this gashapon toy, you can go wild without annoying anyone!"
Unfortunately, the intercom was sold out, so I chose the equally intriguing Talking Toilet Button. When pushing the buttons on this capsule toy, you’ll be treated to music and a supportive voice to "help you along." Those that wish they had the noise-canceling function seen in many public toilets in Japan at home, this is a great alternative!
PIKACHU GIRLY COLLECTION Tote Bag & Pouch Collection vol2 (300 yen)
Since stores in Japan became legally obligated to charge customers for plastic bags in 2020, many gashapon have begun adding eco-bags to their lineups. There’s loads to choose from, including ones featuring Disney, Tom and Jerry, Demon Slayer, and Haikyu. These bags are lightweight and therefore great for any outdoor trip. While they don’t hold loads of stuff, they are the perfect size for books, manga, accessories, and more.
The Pikachu and Eevee tote bags and pouches are super cute and practical. I now use the Eevee pouch I won for my medicine!
Flat Gashapon Detective Conan Big Size Collectable Clear Board (300 yen)
While this too is a gashapon toy, it’s not round like the others. The brand new “flat gashapon” officially debuted in March 2022, and carries up to A4-sized posters, clear files, desk pads, and other flat objects. Turn the handle, and your 2D prize will slowly reveal itself. With the success of this innovative gashapon, I’m certain that those carrying far more than just capsules will grow in popularity in coming years.
My visit to Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro coincided with the release of the film Detective Conan: The Bride of Halloween. Unfortunately, the design I’d hoped for didn’t come out, but it will still make for a great start to a collection, or as a mat for my desk!
Capchara MARVEL08 Spider Man: No Way Home (500 yen)
“Capchara,” short for “capsule character,” is designed to incorporate the actual capsule itself as part of the toy. Along with reducing plastic waste stemming from discarded capsules, they are also larger than regular gashapon toys, as all the parts don’t need to be crammed inside the capsule. I got Spiderman wearing his “integrated suit” - his super-sized head is adorable! I can’t wait to put him on my desk at work!
One Piece no Mi: First Naval Battle (400 yen)
Based on the hit anime One Piece, this gashapon series has capsules shaped like the Devil Fruit, which feature heavily in the story. The small character figurines inside are exquisitely detailed and painted. Since their release in the second half of 2021, they have been a colossal hit with fans. Naturally, I wanted to give it a spin too, but they’re always sold out...
A rarity in the gashapon world, these toys are actually restocked due to how often they keep selling out. The characters that appear in the toy series are also ever-expanding. Just getting one is far from enough!
Some Extra Ways to Have Fun at Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro
After satisfying your capsule toy desires, head to the photography corner at the back of the store. Here you can craft Insta-worthy photos of your collection using the shelves, which have been made into mini photoshooting booths featuring iconic Japanese locations with lighting. Pose your capsule toys to match the backgrounds and unleash your creativity! If you're anything like me, you'll quickly lose track of time!
This time, I used my figure of Captain Levi from the “Attack on Titan Hugcot Series” gashapon. While Hugcot figures are designed to attach to smartphone cables, this particular version has Levi sitting down, making him easy to pair with all sorts of props. I sent him sightseeing through Asakusa! I also arranged my Chiikawa and Hachiware keyholders next to Tokyo Tower.
Ikebukuro: An Ever-Evolving Otaku Paradise!
When it comes to Japan’s “otaku paradise,” most picture Akihabara. However, the international art and culture city of Ikebukuro has played an equal part in the development of Tokyo's otaku culture. In addition to Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro, the flagship “animate” store is in Ikebukuro, which has expanded overseas and is currently under renovations to become the world’s biggest anime store by 2023! There is also the iconic arcade GiGO (formerly SEGA GiGO), the second-hand goods stores K-BOOKS and Mandarake, the female-oriented doujinshi store Toranoana, and the second-hand anime goods outlet Lashinban, and far more, making it an unmissable destination for fans of Japanese subculture and the 2D world.
As Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro opened during the pandemic, many have yet to discover its wonders. Trends in Japan move fast, guaranteeing a new discovery with each visit. If you’re a fan of anime, manga, and other Japanese subcultures, or are simply searching for a unique souvenir of Japan, then definitely check out Gashapon Department Store Ikebukuro! Your next discovery awaits!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.