Monday, August 31, 2015

Japan is super expensive, right? Actually...

Shibuya station

For a long time, the consensus has been that Japan is an expensive place. That was easy to go along with back in 1990, when Japanese investors had the money to buy overseas properties like the Pebble Beach golf course. Tales spread about 10,000 yen watermelons (which do exist) and many people assumed that even a brief stay in Japan would break the bank. There may have been some truth to that 30 years ago. But how costly is the country these days?

Well, it's a mixed bag. You still have goods and services that are as expensive as they were during the bubble years. But there's a growing basket of things that are becoming cheaper, either because of decades of deflation or due to low-cost competition. Let's break it down.

(More after the jump:)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vintage Discoveries #4: Kamen RIder keshi gomu gachapon daishi

Sometimes when I come across a cool vintage piece, I like to highlight it in a Vintage Discovery post. Been a while since I've done one. This week's VD (no, we're not talking about Veteran's Day - sheesh) is a gachapon daishi. I've written about daishi in the past - they're the display cards placed in a gachpon machine letting you know what's inside.

Most of the daishi you see are flat cards with photos or illustrations. But some have actual samples affixed to them. You can find them from time to time, but the subject matter isn't always the most interesting (rubber frogs, little gadgets - that sort of thing). So to find a daishi with samples from an interesting property is the bellissima trifecta.

This gachapon machine - from the late 70s or early 80s, had two sizes of Kamen Rider keshi gomu figures. There was a mix of heroes, including Amazon, V3, and X, as well as some villains.

Some closeups:
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Experiencing Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is one of Japan's most famous landmarks. It's located in Kansai, one of my favorite parts of Japan. With cities like Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, there's a lot to see and do there, in a fairly compact area. Himeji station is an easy 40 minute train ride from Kobe.

Mind you, in recent years I haven't been much of a postcard seeking sightseer. I'd rather walk through streets and supermarkets than museums or monuments. But I was in Himeji, and, with the castle in eyeshot of the train station, I figured it would be worth a visit.

I titled this post "Experiencing Himeji Castle" since seeing the storied place feels more like something you're pushed through than a place you visit to soak in. From start to finish, you line up, go up a hill, and go through the empty castle in a line of people that twists, winds, and goes up and down stairs. This is inevitable with a property that is on so many visitors' itineraries, but the experience is a far cry from the open, self-directed experience you'll have visiting other historical places, such as Windsor Castle in England.

Here's a bit of a photolog that will give you a sense of the experience:
The outer gate is about 10 minutes from the castle. You start by going over a moat.
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Star Wars x Lotte in Japan: The Boom Awakens!

Every so often in Japan, when a show, movie, character, or something else becomes super popular, they call it a "boom." Some examples are Batman in the late 60s (thanks to the TV show), "super cars" in the 70s-80s. and Superman in the late 70s (thanks to the movie). Companies are extremely good at stoking fervor for the boom with marketing blitzes and product tie ins.

A few months ago in Japan, you could feel that the machine was revving up to start delivering anything and everything Star Wars to the nations' eyeballs. Giant posters appeared in Shibuya station, and there was even a Star Wars newspaper that appeared in convenience stores.

And now, with Episode 7 just a few months away, the product flow has begun, starting with branded snacks by Lotte.
Star Wars Episodes 4, 5, and 6 Bikkuriman snack + sticker.
More after the jump:

Friday, July 31, 2015

Varner Studios at SDCC 2015

Last year, I wrote in depth about Varner Studio's display at SDCC. Over the last couple of decades, the company has been responsible for sculpting many toys and is now at the forefront of digital sculpting. At this year's show, they once again had an excellent display. Here's a look at what they brought.
In their display cabinets, Varner had a mix of figures sculpted by hand and digitally, as well as figures at the final stage of development and production.

 More after the jump:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cosplay at SDCC 2015

At this year's SDCC, there was some creative cosplay, especially with vehicles and oversized outfits. Steampunk was barely represented, and my sense in general was there weren't as many cosplayers as in years past. But those who made the trek were enthusiastic and friendly, and they wandered the Gaslamp district of the city along with the hall floor. Here's a look:

 More after the jump:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Indie Toys at SDCC 2015

Welcome to our main report for SDCC 2015 - a look at the indie toys at the show. Retailers and designers continue to set up shop at SDCC, though the numbers are not as strong as in years past. Talking to a number of folks, I got a mixed bag of impressions. Some thought things were going fine, while others talked about fanbases (and retail activity) moving online or to other shows.

A couple of notable absences were Gargamel and Bwana Spoons - two mainstays at past shows. But Kidrobot and Super7 were back, and a few designers held the line with their own tables. We also saw a number of new and upcoming figures.

Booths are arranged alphabetically. Enjoy!

3D Retro

New figure. This thing is massive!
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Interview with Super7's Brian Flynn at SDCC 2015 (He Man, ReAction Toys, & More)

We kick off our SDCC 2015 coverage with an interview with Super7's owner Brian Flynn. Once again, Brian's team put together an excellent booth, which dovetailed with their Skeleton's Lair pop up shop at Super7 San Diego.

In the interview, Brian talks about the new Super7 He Man toys, new figures in the ReAction line (which Funko distributes), Super7 sofubi, playsets, as well as upcoming releases.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bagged Double 6 games from the 70s

In the past I've written about paper board games, known as "double 6" games in Japanese. Now I'd like to show you some unopened sets. These are especially cool since you can see the inserts that came with the games, as well as the cool header cards.
These are pretty big. For scale, the Barom 1 figure on the left (lah lah lah lah lah for those Barom fans in the house)  is about 5" tall.

Gatchaman is the main image on this game.

Fun header card
More after the jump:

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Whenever I spend time in a place, I think about nearby areas that can be visited in a day. I prefer places accessible by train or bus and which don't require too many transfers. If you're visiting Tokyo, one such day trip in easy striking distance is Enoshima.

It's a popular tourist spot off the southern coast of Japan, and you can get to Enoshima station from Tokyo in less than 2 hours. From the station, it's a 10-15 minute walk through a small town and over a bridge to get to the island.
As you can see, it gets pretty crowded. However, the further you walk in, and the more you explore the higher-up areas and back alleys, the smaller the crowds become.

Enoshima has a lot to do in a day. You can visit shrines and parks, sample food at street stalls, walk along the coast, go to an aquarium (on the mainland, not the island), and look out for the many cats that inhabit the island. It's very hilly, so if you're hankering to get your walk on, this place is for you. If you're not so much into stairs and steep inclines, you can pay for an escalator ride to take you up to the main shrine.

More pics after the jump:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yokohama Collectors Mall

If you're in downtown Yohohama, which is a nice place to walk around with a European feel, you might think about checking out the Yokohama Collectors Mall. It's in the basement of a building called the Silk Center.
It's got a bunch of little booths rented by different folks. So there's an eclectic mix of toys and other retro goods - mostly with a Western bent.


Hours: Mon-Thurs 11:00-6:00, Fri-Sat 11:00-7:00, Sunday + Holidays: 11:00-6:00
Closed: Wednesdays
Address: 〒231-0023 横浜市中区山下町1番地
Phone number:  045-651-0951
Map: Click here for a Google Map

More after the jump:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Paul Kaiju's King Gobo

Here are some close up shots of Paul Kaiju's King Gobo.

 More after the jump:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Design Festa 41: Indie Toys

This weekend's Design Festa presented an interesting array of sights. There were quite a few indie toys, concentrated in a small number of booths and booth groupings.

We've seen this before, but the trend has accelerated. So, for instance, the Jungle booth led a long row of booths including many makers, especially from Osaka. Not far away, there was another row of booths containing OneUp, Max Toy, Blobpus (who shared a space with Paul Kaiju), etc. The Japanese makers in this group are all based in the Tokyo area. I suppose it makes sense that you're going to present alongside the people you see the most.
Lots of character in this booth!
There was a lot of booth sharing, so much so that the small number of total tables belied the massive assortment of toys available. A few makers, including Undead Toys and Galaxy People, staked out their own spaces. Interestingly, I found their displays to be the most involved, with more work going into very well presented displays and toy arrangements. It makes sense that if you're the only toy maker in an area, you need to work harder to stand out. They did a great job.
Live painting

Once again, besides vinyl toys, I made an effort to scope out toy and craft makers working in other materials. Often, Design Festa is their main chance to shine on the show circuit, and I wanted to both expand our horizons while giving them their due attention. This time, I came across some beautiful work done in wood, felt, found/mixed materials, and even balloons!
Sleestaks live!
So, let's get on with the photos, with the makers arranged alphabetically. For the makers appearing on KK for the first time, I've listed their online homestead (which include many types of places these days, ranging from websites to blogs to tumblrs to Facebook pages) so you can learn more about them. OK, here we go.

Balloon Milk
 More after the jump:

Monday, May 11, 2015

Asking for discounts at Japanese toy stores

Collecting toys is expensive, so of course we always want to save money when possible. Shopping around for better prices and looking for sales are time-honored strategies. Then there's the issue of asking for discounts at stores. This is common throughout Asia, and a bit of haggling is also done in Western toy stores. So folks visiting Japan often walk into shops, place things on the counter and ask, "Can I get a discount?"

The question is innocent enough, but it might not get you the response you expected. Recently there have been some developments on this front, and I thought I'd share my experiences.

At large stores...

At big box stores (like Toys R Us) and other places selling new toys (like Yamashiroya), it's pretty clear that they won't give you a discount unless there's a sign posted or the figure is marked down on the package. Employees typically have zero ability to lower prices, and generally it's just not part of the retail store culture. Most people know that already, but in case you're wondering about Japan, the same holds true.

At toy shows...

At shows, there's generally some room to get a better deal, and it's even anticipated that you'll bargain. I've seen both Japanese collectors and international visitors ask for lower prices. Sellers will often come down 10% (or maybe 20% if you're lucky), but I wouldn't push your luck beyond that.

Of course you can try the old "bundling" technique by adding things to the pile and throwing out a lump sum. But more often than not, the seller will add things up one by one, and then you're back at 10-20%. Still, the negotiating can be done with a smile, and it is part of the show culture. So that's a plus.

At small stores...

Then we get to the question of small shops selling used toys. It used to be that you could go to checkout, ask for a discount, and get a fairly standard 10% off. I don't know about other people, but I've noticed a pronounced change over the last year. More than one store has said something to the effect of, "Does Mandarake give discounts? No, they don't, and I don't either."

Now, I'm not sure if there was a toy store pow wow, or an influential article written, or what not, but hearing very similar things said in more than one shop makes me wonder whether the smaller shops have decided to band together and stick to a "no discount" policy.

I suspect part of it has to do with the record number of overseas visitors flooding Japanese toy shops. When you get dozens of discount requests every day, that must sting and make you a bit jaded - especially when it's increasingly difficult to restock shelves due to the shrinking number of people selling things to shops. (You can thank the Internet - and especially Yahoo Japan Auctions - for that.) Shops have a limited supply of the good stuff, so they're understandably reluctant to blow it out.

When in Rome...

In case you're wondering about local etiquette, when Japanese shoppers go into small stores, they typically will not ask for a discount. I think that's important to point out. So when you're looking to save some yen, you are going against the grain and potentially risking offending the shop keeper.

Some shops continue to give deals, so if you want, you can still ask. But here is my best advice. If you really want to try for a better deal, just casually drop the question, "Can I get a discount?" Ask just once, smile, and pay close attention to the shop keeper's expression. If he/she smiles and says, "Maybe" or "Sometimes" or "A little," then that's a good sign. If the expression becomes serious, no matter what the person says, drop all talk of getting a bargain. Because even if you get 5% off, you may have offended the person. And that's not cool just to save a small amount, especially if you plan to go back to the shop.

I know it's tough to try to pick up subtle signs, but this is a culture where people do not always speak their minds. The unspoken word is sometimes the loudest. Then again, the person might just tell you straight up, "Do you get a discount at Mandarake? No, and you won't here either."

The big picture...

So have fun with your toy shopping, but try and be sensitive to the shifting landscape when it comes to discounts. Collectors want a good deal, but shop owners need to stay in business in a tough retail environment.

Has anyone had the experience of getting discounts at shops in Japan or other countries? (I'd love to hear about how things are elsewhere!) If so, drop a comment below, or head over to our Facebook page and join the discussion there.

Happy collecting!
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