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The Surprise Inside: Gachapon and Blind Boxes

Here at Maido, we have sets of toys you may have seen. Small boxes no bigger than the palm of your hand feature brightly decorated packaging. The boxes show a series of potential toys on their surface. On the packages you may see a set of sleepy dogs and cats lounging on the edges of computer monitors, anthropomorphic creatures carved from fake stone sitting like Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker, or a group of popular characters posed in silly positions with expressions that mirror their capers. However, in contrast to the details of potential options on the surface, the packages are completely solid, with no cutouts at all to betray the contents held within. This is completely intentional, of course, as the mystery of the collectible toy inside is what makes collecting them fun. These are blind boxes.

To understand the origin and popularity of blind boxes, we must first look at another, similar pop culture phenomenon in Japan: gachapon. Gachapon, sometimes spelled “gashapon”, refers to a type of coin-operated vending machine toy dispenser that we sometimes see here in the United States, albeit usually stocked with much cheaper and less interesting toys. The name “gachapon” is onomatopoetic, referring to the distinct sound that occurs after a coin is put into the machine, the hand crank is turned, and a small toy contained within a plastic bubble is released. Being that Japanese money has much higher coin values than US currency, (equivalent $1 and $5 coins are commonplace there) Japanese gachapon machines frequently feature quality, intricately detailed collectible toys, available in sets and dispensed completely at random. The element of chance, combined with a “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality has made gachapon games and toys very popular in Japan.

Due to their enormous popularity, gachapon games and toys are no longer limited to simple coin operated vending machines. Many Japanese mobile and video games feature a gachapon aspect, where players can make pulls to obtain collectible characters, skins, or items with in-game currency. In the three-dimensional world, the chance fueled, collectible toy concept has expanded as well. This is where we get blind boxes. Blind boxes contain, effectively, the same type of toys, distributed in nearly the same way, as gachapon machines. However, blind boxes rely on their packaging to deliver a random surprise rather than a special distribution machine. This aspect frees both customers, from having to always pay in coins, and retailers, from needing a special vending machine onsite to dispense toys. In this way, blind boxes make the random collectible toy grab convenient and accessible to all parties involved.

Convenience, combined with collectability and the thrill of chance has made blind boxes explosively popular throughout Asia, and has even crept into American markets. They are especially popular in China, where museums have begun selling toy-sized reproductions of historical artworks in this collectible form. Blind boxes are cute, fun and thrilling. Spruce up your bookshelf or desk, and make sure to check our toy section for new blind boxes on your next visit to Maido!


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