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!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ilu Ilu's Commander Victor - An In-Depth Look

At the recent Super Festival 68, there was a lot of buzz about Ilu Ilu's new toy: Commander Victor in the Techno Loaders line. Ilu Ilu is a one-man show, with the design, execution, and packaging created and overseen by one person. That friendly fellow, Sakaguchi-san, graciously took time to show me the ins and outs of his new figure.

Here's a look at Commander Victor, its accessories, accompanying minis, and packaging.

The Figure
Commander Victor stands at 19 cm (7.5") tall. Two versions were released: red + light green. The main robot has 8 parts.

 Sakaguchi's many inspirations for the figure include robots from the 1970s-1980s such as Clover toys (Ex Dougram + Gundam), Takara toys like the Diaclone Double Changers, and Ideon.
 More after the jump:

Monday, April 27, 2015

Super Festival 68 / スーパーフェスティバル 68

The 68th installment of the venerable Super Festival show showed an impressive surge in new toys, toy makers, and strong attendance. All told, there were around 50 toy makers at SF 68 - some with their own booths, and some sharing booths.

The show was so overflowing that (for the first time I've seen it) a separate side room was opened for a Super Art Toy area. That was basically a group of indie toy makers (including Art Junkies, T9G, Onion Fight and others) who banded together to exhibit side by side. I'm not sure if that was a one-off event or if we'll see it at future shows.

Here's my SF 68 report, which is fairly pic heavy (230+ shots). Makers are alphabetized:


 Much more after the jump:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MASSIVE Pinball Video Game Retro Arcade in Osaka, Japan - Silver Ball Planet

On a recent trip to Osaka, I stumbled upon a magnificent place - the Silver Ball Planet. It's a world class pinball arcade with nearly 100 machines. Many are new. Others are decades old. They have a wonderful selection of games in outstanding condition.

Here's a video I shot:

Shop info:

Name: Silver Ball Planet
Address: 中央区西心斎橋1-6-14-3階, Osaka
Map: Click here
Hours:11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
Facebook: Click here

More pics:

This game is fun, but it takes a while to get used to the physics of hitting a ball vertically!
More after the jump:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gundam Razors

I love me a good branding campaign, even when I'm not interested in the property or the product. You can still enjoy a well done POP, clever packaging and design work, and sometimes even giveaways. The X Fit x Gundam razors have all that.
I spotted the display at this Yamada pharmacy. It's located right next to the JR Akihabara staition.

Fantastic placement (right at the entrance) for the POP. Makes sense, since you probably have thousands of anime fans walking by every day.
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The 80s are BACK in Tokyo at retro clothing shop Kiki 2!!

In some ways, Tokyo is a city of extremes. You've got your buttoned-up business districts with high-rises clumped together. But walk two streets over, and you're in a shady district full of pachinko parlors and grim alleyways.

Take a train, and you're likely to join a row of serious faces, with a heavy stench of liquor wafting through the carriage. But exit the station, and you may bump into a dancing, furry mascot welcoming you to a newly opened travel agency.

Balancing all that on a daily basis can be a psychological high-wire act, which is one reason most people walk down the street with tunnel vision, hurrying from A to B without engaging who knows what. You can't take it all too seriously, though, and if you seek out the nicer quarters, you can have a lot of fun.

Koenji (the district next to Nakano) is a groovy area to walk around. Besides a few toy shops, you've got plenty of homey restaurants (including a veggie place), coffee shops, thrift stores (called "recycle shops" in Japan) and other bohemian spaces.

On a stroll through Koenji the other day, I came across Kiki 2, a boutique that mostly sells used clothing. I'm not a kawaiiseour, but this place had enough of a funky retro toy vibe going that I thought I'd check it out.

Here's a video I shot:

Store details for your kawaii purveyance:
English address: 2-21-11 1F Koenji Minami, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Japanese address: 〒166-0003 東京都杉並区 高円寺南 2-21-11
Click here for a pinpoint Google Map to Kiki, which is right next to Kiki 2.
Tel: 03 5377 0105
Hours: 1 PM - 8 PM

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Japanese supermarket branded candy + shokugan toy premiums

In Japan, there's a long tradition of selling branded candy, snacks, and other goodies. That might be a pack of gum with Ultraman images, potato chips with Doraemon packaging, and so on. Sometimes just the package is branded, and other times there's a card, sticker, or toy inside. These "candy premiums" (aka shokugan) from companies like Glico, Meiji, and Morinaga go back many decades, making for a cool area of collecting.

The tradition continues at convenience stores, supermarkets, drug stores, and tons of other outlets. Here are images I snapped at a Tokyo supermarket.

The marketers have been hitting it hard with Kamen Rider Drive, the 25th (!!) installment in the legendary series. Interestingly, the top left of the box says "Sofubi hero." I believe this is a straight up mini toy, which you'll also see sold in supermarkets.

You can see the other figures in the series pictured.

Chococlate peanut snacks. Interestingly, this is completely Bandai branded. In the past, it was more common for companies like Bandai to pair up with snack makers. Looks like with this KR shokugan, they've driven past the competition by knocking out the middle man.
 More after the jump:

Monday, March 23, 2015

Vintage Tin Toy Airship / Blimp Display

Toy collecting is full of all kinds of interesting niches. If you're at an antique store or show, you might spot something (like an old fountain pen) and think "That's cool." But when you see 10 or 20 together in a collection, it adds meaning. You can compare different versions and styles, and there's something about putting a lot of a certain type of thing together that creates a story or identity.

So, the other day at a Mandarake, I spotted a bunch of vintage dirigibles. Let me start by saying I have zero knowledge of this corner of the toy world. But the assembled group looked really neat, and I thought I'd share a look with you guys.
Pretty serious money for these collectibles. But beyond that, how cool is this Shenandoah blimp circling the Eiffel Tower!

I wonder how many kids filled the moats with water back in the day. I'm guessing most of them -or maybe mud...

A familiar sight to sports fans.

This one has a Steampunk vibe.

This zeppelin looks like it has a turn key on the bottom. I wonder what it does. Any time I'm at this shop and I heard mechanical whirring and clanging, I run to the register to see what tin toy they're testing. :)

The sign says this one is from Germany.

Looks like one of those Time Life books. Remember those commercials?
I look at toys like this and am just amazed that they survived the decades with such delicate parts!

I guess the blimp from this Marx set is part of the coastal defense? The attackers are coming! Fire up the blimp!

Beautiful jumbo lenticular card.

Top shelf piece right there.
A more modern battery operated toy by Bandai.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Star Wars Japanese keshi gomu (rubber eraser) figures

A bunch of Star Wars keshi gomu figures were made in Japan in the late 70's, after the first Star Wars movie came out. Most were released in gachapon machines or at little candy shops which also sold toys.

The above batch of figures were made by Takara. Here are some up-close pics:
A lot of the early Takara keshi are fairly godawful to look at, but I just darn plum lub em, I do!

 More after the jump:

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Mandarake story: The founder's tale

Mandarake Shibuya
Mandarake is Japan's preeminent source of many pop culture goods. The company, which was founded in 1987, runs shops all over Japan. In Tokyo's Nakano district alone, the Broadway mall contains 26 Mandarake shops (yes, that's 26 with a capital who's your daddy "T"!) A main fixture of these otaku meccas is the "buy back" area where countless streams of people sell things for quick cash. This allows each store to restock shelves regularly - a critical component of the firm's success.
Mandarake Grandchaos, Osaka
In 2000, Mandarake went public, with shares debuting on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. (Stock symbol: 2652.T) Its recent earnings reports reveal just how big the pop culture market has become. In 2014, the firm pulled in 9.5 billion yen in revenues. That's a lot of copies of Gegege no Kitaro!

More after the jump:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oedo Antique Market

The Oedo Antique Market, held regularly in Tokyo near Yurakucho station, is like a lot of other events in Japan. Most booths feel like they're manned by the same people every time, and whereas you can find some neat stuff, finding a deal is another thing. Of course you can bargain, so there's a chance you might walk away with something good for a decent price.
This particular market, held outdoors in front of the Tokyo International Forum, seems to be popular with tourists. The goods are a mix of vintage Japanese and imported items, from all up and down the antique gamut: glassware, knickknacks, curios, clothing, statues, and the like.
There are a few vendors selling toys, but again since most are professional sellers, I don't see much advantage over shopping at stores. Still it's a free event and an easy way to pass an hour or two before heading on to other parts of the city.
More pics from the market, after the jump:
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