Gashapon no Depato Ikebukuro
The 3,000 Capsule Toys Department Store
Gashapon no Depato Ikebukuro is a shop in Sunshine City shopping mall in the north-east of Tokyo. Property of the Bandai-Namco company, it only sells capsule toys, with more than 3,000 vending machines and is envisioned as the world’s largest gashapon store.
The very popular gashapon capsule toys have been an essential part of the Japanese recreational landscape for decades and regardless of people’s age. With only a few hundred Yens, they can turn the knob of a vending machine selling a collectible figurine packed in a small plastic capsule. The combination of luck and a very affordable price to get a unique and kawaii item explains the popularity of this social phenomenon.
Capsule toys initially from the West
Distributed in Japan from 1977, the gashapon machines are largely inspired by the coin toy machines created in the United States in 1965, that also eventually traveled to France in the 1970-1980s to be displayed at fairs. Many of us remember watching the display of trinkets with the "Help yourself" sign and randomly picking a machine wishing to be lucky and receive the desired toy.
The word gacha gacha, to pronounce gatcha-gatcha, is the onomatopoeia for the sound made when twisting the crank of the machine. The Bandai-Namco company has registered the official name "gashapon" of which the last syllable "-pon" is the sound made by the capsule when landing in the collection tray.
In Japan, gashapon vending machines are usually lined in game centers’ alleys, shopping malls, stations or in the streets of the otaku leisure districts. The first official shop named Department Store of Gashapon opened in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City in February 2021.
The largest gashapon shop in the world
Located at the 3rd floor of the World Import Mart Building, the store is spreading on a 1,250m² superficies and accommodates an impressive 3,000 machines. They are lined up next to each other, forming of large walls, in a maze of seemingly infinite choice of figurines.
When too many people visit the shop at the same time, waiting lines are set up. You will find an eclectic audience, from families with children to young adults and even full-fledged adults, all patiently waiting for their turn to enter the Gashapon no depato. Indeed, the shop does not only target a public of aficionado but also aims at attracting a larger and international customer base. The atmosphere is a mix of entertainment, wonder and excitement.
After the entrance, a vestibule serves 2 areas:
- Immediately on the right, a small space is dedicated to the Ufo Catcher claw machines, that require great skills and good reasoning to catch the best prizes,
- Then on the opposite side, the part allocated to the capsule toys vending machines.
From there, there is no way to guess the extent of the gashapon alleys lined up one after another. A poster above each machine displays the current collection. The machines are grouped together according to their contents to make the orientation more convenient.
Most of the capsules cost from ¥200(~US$1.53) to ¥500 (~US$3.83). The most expensive ones called "premium" can cost up to ¥2,000 (~US$15.33) on average for one toy and are usually placed in the best locations to attract the most customers possible. Be aware that collections are frequently changing and the most popular can be temporarily out of stock, which makes it difficult to collect all the figurines of a single series.
Spending is fostered thanks to change machines scattered throughout the shop to exchange banknotes for ¥100 (~US$0.77) coins. The vending machines are maintained and replenished throughout the day and staff is also available to help find specific collection machines.
Tourists will enjoy the visit of Ikebukuro’s great Gashapon shop for the concentration of capsule-toy vending machines that is the highest in the world. Its location was judiciously selected in the capital’s modern district, renowned for its pop culture and its international fame. It is therefore a pleasure to immerse shortly in the unusual world of the gashapon.