Locally themed capsule toys spur charm of rediscovering niche areas in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman buys a capsule toy at the Kabukiza Theatre souvenir shop in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, in July.

Capsule toys featuring key chains and other items highlighting local landmarks and specialties are increasingly popular.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Courtesy of Hokutetsu Kanazawa Bus Co.
Left: A key chain with a design based a sandwich set at American coffee shop
Center: A key chain from the Hokutetsu Bus Stop collection
Right (top): A Kabukiza Theatre key chain
Right (bottom): Buddhist-themed capsule toys

A company in Saitama last year started selling capsule toys featuring Urawa, Omiya and other cities in Saitama Prefecture, and such trinkets became a hit, with more than 120,000 units sold.

With similar capsule toys found in Tokyo, Chiba and Nagano prefectures and other locations, people are rediscovering the charms of local areas.

On July 12, a crowd gathered at the Kabukiza Theatre souvenir shop in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. The shop sells Higashi-Ginza-themed capsule toys for ¥300 that contain key chains featuring the Kabukiza Theatre and the Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre, both of which are located near Higashi-Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro and Toei subway lines.

The project was planned by Saitama-based Arche, a firm that operates a commercial building in front of JR Omiya Station.

The capsule toys contain not only items related to famous places, but also “themes close to the hearts of local people,” Arche President Yoshio Nakajima said.

One such item on sale at the souvenir shop is a capsule toy linked to a coffee shop named American. The coffee shop is located near the Kabukiza Theatre and is famous for its thick sandwiches, and the capsule toy key chain illustrates American’s sandwich set that always sells out.

About 5,000 capsule toys related to Higashi-Ginza have been sold in about 1½ months since being launched.

The “deep-themed” capsule toys originated with the Omiya one that went on sale in March last year. They included motifs of a department store located in front of Omiya Station, the Hakushakutei retro coffee shop and the signboard of the now-defunct Hata Bowl bowling alley.

The series continued with themed capsule toys related to Urawa, Yono and Kawagoe.

The production of locally themed capsule toys is spreading to other regions as well.

The Ichikawa Machi Gacha capsule toy from Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, is a product with the names of the city’s districts written on 2-millimeter-thick rounded plates. Each plate can be used as a key ring.

At the suggestion of the Chiba designer who came up with the idea, the capsules also contain a mini-book that introduces anecdotes about the local area in the hope that Chiba residents who work in Tokyo will also get to know the local districts.

Kanazawa-based Hokutetsu Kanazawa Bus Co. had sold by the end of June about 2,000 capsule toy key chains featuring bus stop sign collections.

Capsule toys produced by Ina, Nagano Prefecture, feature eight different types of stone Buddha figures from the city’s Takato district, an area known for its stone craftspeople. They are also environmentally friendly as the lids of plastic bottles are used as a raw material in production.

“[Purchasing capsule toys with local themes] is an opportunity to rediscover local resources,” said Prof. Junji Nishimura, who specializes in marketing theory at Konan University. “It’s a new form of regional development.”