What are they?
Gachapon are coin-operated toy dispensers usually ranging in price from ¥100 to ¥500. Unlike most Western toy vending machines, which are aimed at children, the contents you receive for your coins aren’t chintzy throwaways, but relatively high-quality, limited-edition goods related to your favorite piece of pop culture, making them popular among collectors and casual fans alike.
Whether it's anime, manga, video games, idols, or esoteric everyday items, gachapon cater to an eclectic range of interests for any age. Regardless of what you’re into, there’s a machine that offers exactly what you want—even if you don’t realize it until you finally set your eyes on it. There is, of course, an element of chaos in the mix, as there’s no guarantee you’ll get exactly what you want on your first spin. But that’s all part of the fun, right?
What’s in the name?
You’ve probably noticed that there are two names to refer to these toy dispensers. While both names are derived from Japanese onomatopoeia, with gacha or gasha referring to the sound of the machine being cranked—and pon the anticipatory clunk of the capsule coming down—the difference is more than just pronunciation. Both are commonly used, but gachapon is the generic name for the machines, while Gashapon is the officially licensed name registered by toy and video game giant Bandai Namco.
What sorts of things can you get?
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, literally almost anything can come out of one of these machines. While many gachapon provide the sort of goods you'd expect, like small figurines, key chains or cell phone straps, for every machine that does the ordinary, there's another that gives you underwear or a weird towel to put on your household objects.
There are plenty of machines that provide miniature versions of mundane everyday objects like chairs, shopping carts, condiments and street signs. And of course, there are machines that give you a chance at maximum cuteness, whether it's in the form of your favorite sleeping animal or beloved characters adorably hanging onto your glass dear life. Because many items have a limited run, stocks change frequently, which means even machines you see regularly will have surprising new knickknacks to hoard.
Where can you find one?
Gachapon can be found in and outside stores throughout the country. Arcades and stores related to gaming, electronics, anime or manga, as well as themed restaurants and cafés are almost always sure to have a block of machines to peruse. Then, of course, there are also gachapon mecca throughout Tokyo, especially in shopping districts like Akihabara or Shinjuku, where a fanatic can spend hours sorting through them to find their perfect machine (believe me, I’ve done it!).
If you’re the type that likes to plan ahead, there's a (now-closed) thread on Reddit that contains sites that detail the location of various categories of machines, as well as suppliers, to help you find the machine that contains your dream capsule. If you can work with Japanese, the site below, Gasha-Doko ("Where's Gasha?"), has location listings for Bandai Gashapon across the nation.