In current western society, knowledge is a simple Google search away. If you don’t want to be surprised by traffic, you look it up. When you want to go to the movies, your pick your seats ahead of time. If you aren’t sure your local department store has something you’re looking for, you call and ask before you even leave home. If you really want to, you can live a life free of surprises.

Given that surprise is in very limited supply nowadays, Japan has made surprise an entire industry. In the central Tokyo district of Akihabara, surprise is not only abundant, but it is monetized in the form of gachapon, or capsule toys.

Gachapon, Far and Wide

Gachapon are those small toys, usually related to some pop cultural topic, that you get from coin-op machines in the front of every grocery story. They’re the small key chains, figurines, or sticky hands that kids love so much, but as adults, these small toys aren’t even worth a quarter.

In Japan, these toys are called gachapon, after the ‘pon’ sound the capsules make when they get deposited by the machine. Here in America, we wouldn’t waste our money, but in Akihabara especially and across Japan generally, these machines represent the very essence of surprise. Millions of people love exchanging a single coin, usually 100-500 Yen, for a moment of surprise, elation, and possible heartache.

The Gachapon Game

This monetized surprise is so popular in Japan that stores like Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan carry 500 different machines, usually with sets of machines offering the same line of toys. People spend what may feel like hours searching for the machine that have gachapon of their favorite anime, video game, or hobby. These toys run form the latest anime hit, to key chains of plastic food or bugs, to small sound chips from old video games.

Once you’ve found their machine, you can spend coin after coin, trying to get the entire line of toys in that gachapon set. If you don’t get all the toys now, you’ll probably never get another chance because many of these machines are changed out weekly.

Why You Should Care

Gachapon connects us to a time when a quarter represented a risk. When you’d put a coin, often your entire life savings, into a machine, risking an undesired-toy outcome. But even when you didn’t get what you wanted, you’d still come back the next time you had a quarter because of the excitement of those times you got that perfect toy. Your doubts are forgotten because of what these cute little toys can make you feel. Surprise, elation, excitement. Gachapon, as an industry, embody this experience and then deliver that experience to anyone willing to risk a coin and go looking for their perfect machine.

So, if you’re traveling to Japan, head to Akihabara, because gachapon could be exactly what you’re looking for. Take a risk and bring a little surprise and excitement into your life.

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