[From January Issue 2014]
A capsule toy is a small capsule with a toy or figurine inside. Insert the money into a vending machine containing the capsules, turn the handle and a product tumbles out. As it doesn’t cost much, some people try again and again until the product they want comes out.
In the past there was a strong perception that capsule toys were something for kids and machines were installed in toy stores and shopping centers. Now new products targeted at adults are being launched one after the other. Priced between 100 to 400 yen, they can be found in all kinds of places, including CD shops.
Because they’re so realistic, many adults are fans of Kitan Club Co., Ltd’s “NATURE TECHNI COLOUR” series of figurines of living creatures. Since going on the market in 2012, the “CUP ON THE FUCHICO” series has sold a total of more than 4.4 million units. These are figurines that can be hung from the rim of a glass. As many people upload photos onto SNS when using a Fuchico, photo contests were held and 6,000 entries were submitted. Related products and picture books are also on sale.
Another hit product that’s flying off the shelves even faster than CUP ON THE FUCHICO is “Koko wa ore ga kuitomeru! Omae wa sakini iku nya-!” (I’m holding it up! Stand well back meow!) suction cup stand. “I think there are many reasons why adults are so enchanted by this, including the fact that it reminds them of their childhood, it’s cheap and delivers the excitement of the unexpected,” says SHIKI Seita, PR man for Kitan Club.
“However, I feel that the biggest factor is that word gets out through SNS,” says Shiki. “You burst out laughing as soon as you see a photo uploaded by a friend and want one for yourself. Since you don’t know what’s going to come tumbling out, it’s exciting when you get hold of your product and end up uploading your own photos on SNS. It could be that this cycle creates a huge buzz.”
It doesn’t end there, some elderly people are also getting their hands on capsules. “Kabuki Handkerchief” by Bandai Co., Ltd. is so popular that kabuki fans wait in line for them. “We usually have only a few repeat production runs for capsule toys, but this item will continue to be on sale for some time,” says WASHIZU Tomomi from the PR team at the president’s office.
In some cases capsule toys have helped to raise funds for charity. A capsule containing a metal badge with “Shimanekko” – the tourism mascot for Shimane Prefecture – and a red feather printed on it costs 100 yen each and all the proceeds are donated to Community Chest. “Red Feather Community Chest” is one of Japan’s well-known charities and it’s used to help the elderly and the disabled in the area, as well as disaster victims. Originally intended to be on sale for a limited period of time only, the badges were more popular than expected and now they are always on sale.
Besides this, capsule vending machines selling sets containing a fortune and lucky charm are placed in hospitals. It’s been said that vending machines selling capsule toys outnumber postboxes, and they may further increase in number in the future.