Uhh… what are gashapon?
Gashapon are vending machine-dispensed toys, popular in Japan, that can be found both inside and outside shops all around Akihabara. Many people like to use their extra change and try their luck to see what kind of prize they can get by turning the hand-crank and opening up a small colored plastic ball that pops out of the machine. Others are more adamant and spend a fair amount of coin attempting to win a particular prize of their choice. But this could be an expensive and time-consuming task.
Luckily today’s task would allow our challengers to throw away all restraint in order to get their hands on as many gashapon as possible!
COVID-19: Due to the current outbreak of COVID-19, visiting crowded public spaces is not recommended. This challenge was taken place in early March 2020, before the situation drastically changed.
The challenge begins
The gang arrived at 10 am outside the electric town exit of Akihabara. The group: charismatic host Tristan, fox girl Fay and cameraman Matt from notorious YouTube channel, Around Akiba. Their mission: spend 100,000 yen on gashapon (capsule toys) and then give them away to random passersby.
Tristan opened a small envelope revealing ten crisp 10,000 yen bills and showed it to Fay who opened her school bag to reveal several plastic garbage bags. Matt set up his camera and threw the steadicam over his shoulder. Equipped with masks and hand-sanitizer, the three headed out. Everyone was in high spirits, ready to take on this seemingly fun and easy task, unaware of the obstacles that awaited them. However, as fate would dictate, this wouldn’t be a #TokyoChallenge if it was a walk in the park.
First Challenge: Exchanging large bills for 1,000 coins
The troop arrived at their first destination: the legendary Akihabara Gachapon Hall, the biggest Gashapon store in Akihabara containing hundreds of machines, only to realize that they still needed to exchange their ten 10,000 yen bills into one thousand 100 yen coins. There was one problem: the money changer machines inside only accepted 1,000 yen bills.
Not to be discouraged, they headed out to another nearby arcade center. Tristan located the exchange machine and began sliding in the bills cautiously, unaware of the store-clerk staring a hole into the back of his head. A few 1,000 yen bills and not even 100 coins later, the clerk stomped over angrily and told him he better be spending that money in this shop. Fay surreptitiously took a coin from her pocket and used it to play a crane game. As the two headed toward the exit the clerk began to yell, telling them not to come back!
Frustrated from this experience, the trio headed further into town and spotted one of the biggest game centers in Akihabara on the main street—big enough to exchange some bills without complaints from store staff. Perusing the layout of the multi-floor building, the gang decided to divide up the cash and split up in order to accomplish this mission.
They were careful not to spend too much time at one exchange machine before moving on to the next so as not to draw too much attention, and always allowed other customers to go first. Only when their pockets were heavy with coins did they regroup at the front entrance. Moving out of sight from onlookers, everyone dumped their coins into Fay’s schoolbag, which now weighed about 4.8 kg! It was time to get some capsule toys.
Second Challenge: Inserting the coins one-by-one into gashapon machines
Buying 100,000 yen worth of gashapon is a lot of fun, but it’s also one of the most strenuous jobs you can imagine.
Usually the gashapon machines are stacked on top of each other—three layers high. Those on the top are the easiest to reach, as you can use them while standing. The middle layer and under is where the real workout begins. Here, you have to bend over slightly or stretch your arm downwards to reach it, putting those long-forgotten back muscles to good use. The most challenging ones, however, are the ones on the ground. If you want those babies you either have to kneel down or do as they did and sit on the floor. After only a few rounds Tristan was tuckered out. He’d managed to win quite a lot of Kirby miniatures, but the machine was taking its toll on him.
It was then that Fay realized they would need a better strategy if they were going to come out of this battle unharmed. She proposed that Tristan insert the coins while she turned the nozzle. Tristan would then knock the ball into the garbage bag while inserting the next coin. This conveyor belt system worked fairly well until the machines fought back and began to jam, spitting their coins back out in a flat rejection of their efforts. After filling up a bag of toys worth 15, 200 yen, these gacha veterans decided it was time to switch strategies and seek out the help of strangers.
Re-strategize: You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours
So far, the group had been having fun spending coins on uncountable capsule toys that they personally found interesting. They got a hold of some great licensed gashapon such as Pokémon and Kirby figurines, My Hero Academia acrylic stands and various key chains from popular anime like “Demon Slayer.” Why not brighten up someone else’s day and help them win their favorite prize? That would take out two birds with one stone.
Tristan went up to random people who seemed to be eyeing a certain capsule and offered to help them get it. Their eyes lit up as Fay held open her hefty bag filled with shiny coins, and after encouraging them it was okay, cautiously reached in and grabbed a handful. Tristan joyfully told them to keep turning the nozzle until they got what they wanted. It was even more fun to brighten people’s day by helping them win their favorite prize.
The Boy and the Freddy Kruger Mask
One boy wanted a particular version of Freddie Kruger’s capsule sized mask. Every time the wrong one came out he politely placed it in our haul bag and asked if it was really okay to keep trying. Each time, fox girl Fay put him at ease with a resounding, “Douzo!” He’d smile, and with a slight bow, the next few coins trickled into the machine.
The Girl and the Pink Watch
One of the cutest interactions of the day was a shy young girl with her parents. Her father helped her grab three of our coins to put them into the machine, but every time she put one coin in, she ran back to her father, looking back at Tristan, unsure what to do next. Her father gently urged her to keep going until her capsule came out: a small pink wrist watch.
Seeing the smiles on people’s faces, especially those whose capsule took a LONG time to get, gave our heroes all the energy they needed to keep going.
Third Challenge: Convincing people that unlimited free coins isn’t a scam
Watching videos from international YouTubers such as Mr. Beast inspired Tristan to try going up to strangers and offer them free money to use in the gashapon machines. You’d think people would jump at the chance of using the machines for free, but this is Japan. Most people were quite modest and politely declined our offer of unlimited gashapon spending. They were likely quite wary of foreigners offering something “free” with no strings attached.
It took a long time just to find the right people who’d accept our challenge without assuming we were trying to scam them somehow—that, and a lot of people are camera-shy.
At first, Tristan told unsuspecting gashapon perusers about the challenge and video concept and said that if there was something they wanted he could help them buy it. Most people shied away from it, not wanting to get involved. He got better results when he asked right away which toy they were trying to win and having Fay ready with the open bag of coins in full view as he told them to please use these coins to win the capsule. Seeing the many coins right away seemed to convince people that this really was some sort of publicity stunt video and that it was okay to accept free money.
It was simpler with children because Tristan could explain the concept to their parents who then gave the kids permission to take from the coin bag.
Fourth Challenge: Hitting up all the major gashapon stands around Akiba
Slinging sacks filled with toys on their backs like Santa Claus, the journey continued and they set out to visit most of the popular gashapon areas around Akihabara.
Stopping by the gashapon wall outside Bic Camera, Fay spent about 6,600 yen in an attempt to win a secret miniature Vespa.
Tristan scoured through the Radio Kaikan building and grabbed some Fate GO keychains. Even the cameraman decided to help out, using the Square Enix Cafe’s exclusive gashapon machines to win a super-rare FFVII Cloud pin badge inside Yodobashi Camera (8,000 yen later).
Another perhaps lesser known gashapon area is on the 2nd floor inside of the Akihabara train station. Many machines featuring funny and strange miniature creatures can be found here.
Fifth Challenge: Recording our spending info and surviving the long haul
In order to keep a record of their spending, the gang came equipped with a notebook in which they kept track of how many capsules were purchased in which price range, and how many were given away. In the end, just over half the money was spent filling garbage bags with toys and the rest went to lucky customers hanging around the gashapon stores.
Counting the loot:
Total number of gashapon toys acquired after spending 100,000 yen: 324
- 75 capsules x 200 yen = 15,000 yen
- 174 capsules x 300 yen = 52,200 yen
- 47 capsules x 400 yen = 18,800 yen
- 28 capsules x 500 yen = 14,000 yen
It was well past dark when the crew hauled their bags back to Akihabara station. Fay dumped her bag on the ground and let out an exhausted yawn. Tristan started double checking the numbers and Matt took a final photo of the three of them. What had seemed a simple task had taken all day long and was a lot more work than anticipated. Still, the now master-level gashapon users knew their mission wasn’t quite complete.
The final stage
Looking up into the night sky, the three took in a breath of fresh air and nodded in unison. Tristan went home to take a bathtub selfie with all of the gashapon, Matt constructed a mystery box to fill with the gashapon, and Fay designed a sign that said, “Win a Free Gashapon Here.”
Soon, the gang would return to Electric Town and give all their colorful otaku-themed loot away to more unsuspecting and lucky Tokyo citizens.