Japan's Tiniest Collectibles: GASHAPON!

When I was a little kid in Japan and I was dragged out to boring shopping trips at the department store with my mom, there was one thing that I could always look forward to that would make the trip worthwhile:
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What are Gashapon, exactly?  Strictly speaking, they are capsule toys, meaning little toys housed in small plastic balls that are dispensed by vending machines.  The brainchild of Bandai, Gashapon emerged in Japan in the late seventies and started to spread like wildfire throughout the country.  The name, like many other nicknames in Japan, are based on onomatopeiac interpretations.  The gasha gasha relates to the sound the vending machine handle makes when you turn it, and the pon is the sound the capsule makes when it hits the bottom of the machine as it's dispensed. 
But beyond that technical and historical background, Gashapon are so much more.  Imagine if someone took your favorite things and miniaturized them into little collectibles.  Those things could be almost anything, from animals to art to anime to movies to science to history.  Gashapon does not discriminate; rather, it celebrates variety, which is one reason why they make such great souvenirs.
Here are just a few examples of the Gashapon variety, including...

SANRIO characters:

Dragonball Z:

Japanese culture:

And even Japanese History and Puzzles:

All it takes is 3 Easy Steps...

and voila!

Gashapon location and pricing:

You can find Gashapon in just about any toy store, mall, or department store in Japan.  Occasionally, even convenience stores will house some of these vending machines.  The typical Gashapon costs between 100 and 500 yen, so one or two will not break the bank.  Be careful though, they can be quite addictive if you try to get all the different varieties--it can become like gasha-gasha gambling if you get too into it!
These do make great little souvenirs for your office desk or for friends and family if they're into any of the different representations of Gashapon available.  If nothing else, it makes for an easy to carry keepsake, so I say zehi, give it a try when you come across one of these machines (and you will!) during your journeys in Japan.

Mike B