Put a ¥100 coin in the round-shaped vending machine, turn the dial, and out drops a small sphere containing a tiny capsule toy. This very moment of anticipation giving way to excitement (or disappointment over yet the same piece in a collection) will never cease through a capsule toy lover’s entire life! Recently, the Japanese capsule toys have gone way beyond the shapes of anime and manga figurines, and now include special models of all kinds of miniature sculptures, such as insects, toilets, busts – and their variety is truly amazing. All these are the brainchild of capsule toy company Yujin Co. from Tokyo’s neighbourhood of Tadeishi. They come up with twenty-five different products every month, creating hundreds of types for sale in thirty-seven countries. Today PingMag talks to Katsuhiko Onoo, Misayo Ariga, and Chihiro Ishizaki of Yujin’s product planning department.
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
First, tell us a bit about Yujin, please!
Misayo Ariga: Yuji was established as a subsidiary of toy maker Takaratomy in 1988. At that time, in addition to capsule toys, Takaratomy was making toys that came with sweets, prizes for claw games, prikura, and many other things. Our capsule toys became very popular products, so they decided to found Yujin to deal exclusively in capsule toys.
So, each of you present produces five or six new models every month. How do you decide on new designs?
Katsuhiko Onoo: To develop one, a product takes at least four or five months. We have monthly product development meetings and each of us throws out four or five ideas. From those, we determine which ones would be appropriate for turning into products. We then turn the ideas over to a design company we work with, and we oversee the project by selecting the best from the designs they return. Then it goes into production. At the same time, new toys for the following months are in various production stages, so there is quite a lot of turnover…
What are the challenges in the process of developing new products?
Misayo Ariga: When we develop products that are not anime characters or such, but are based on our own ideas, then it can be quite difficult. For example, with our new “Introduction to Plaster Casts” series, we worked with students from Tokyo University of the Arts who made sculpture prototypes. The collaboration took one year. With such a long development period, we have to check the progress. Even though we follow a certain procedure, in developing the designs, the quality of materials and so many other things can turn out differently then what we planned.
What is important for turning your ideas into a product?
Katsuhiko Onoo: Of course, the design is important. But also, if we are not having fun with our job, then there is no spirit to a new product, and it doesn’t really catch on. Actually, the ones we just throw out onto the market don’t really last long, while the ones that we think up and decide on ourselves stay on the market.
A miniature version of a cough drop package to be used as a mobile phone strap or good luck charm.
Slightly naughty! Oddly shaped potato as capsule toy.
The product planning department named it “Don’t eat these! They are poisonous mushrooms!” (Loosely translated.)
The popular “Prank Series.” In the centre is a certain fun toy you can see in action here!
Katsuhiko Onoo: It is also important that the designer has an intimate knowledge of the toy that is being made. Whether is is an animation character, models of insects, games, whatever. If the person is interested and enthusiastic about the subject, the finished product will be completely different. For example, the designer of our “Japanese Insects in Primary Colors” series wanted to get some specimens of bees to examine, so they went to Okinawa for specimens and actually went out with a net and cage to collect samples. (Laughs)
The “Japanese Insects in Primary Colors” series…
… and a 3D model of a colourful fish from the “Fish in Primary Colours” series.
A miniature version of a dental model used by dentists to explain problems to patients. Have fun with it!
Part of the gums can be removed to reveal what is inside… Nice!
Recently, capsule toys also target the adult market. However, what’s the secret of appealing to kids?
Katsuhiko Onoo: Capsule toys have been around for a long time, and is seems that the toys that children like do not change: They like toys that fly, are shiny, make noise, react in some way, or are pleasant to the touch. Kids especially like things that adults don’t like, such as insects, poo, toys that make fart sounds, and stuff like that. (Laughs) Also, children are happy to see everyday objects made into miniatures, since, for example, they usually wouldn’t be allowed to touch trophies or carpenter’s tools. By getting this object in miniature, they can bring it into their own world. People tend to forget the joy of that when they get older…
Ever popular poo charms in pop colours.
Chihiro, you came up with the idea for the “poo squeeze series” which became a big hit with kids. How did you come up with that idea?
Chihiro Ishizaki: I just thought back to childhood. When I was a kid, for some reason it was a lot of fun to use the words “poo” and “fart”…
When kids buy a capsule toy from a vending machine, they do not know which toy exactly they are going to get. I try to think of that moment of anticipation when they use their imagination. With the “Fart Time Bomb,” I thought of how children enjoy farting. I wanted to channel that anticipation and enjoyment in one toy. Also, children’s knowledge is not as deep, but they are able to imagine a lot based on little information, and I wanted to make a toy based on that.
What was your most popular capsule toy?
Misayo Ariga: Our “Canned Insect” series, which features insect models in tiny cans like canned food, became a big hit in 1989. Since then, we have released new models in the series every July. This year, we will release erasers shaped like horned beetles and stag beetles. A few lucky buyers will get a few special models that are silver and gold!
Why, do you think, this one became a hit?
Misayo Ariga: Children see insects as mysterious creatures. There are also a lot of adults that remember collecting insects when they were kids and buy these toys because of the nostalgic feel.
Recently, you have been working on the “Time Capsule at Capsule Toy Project.” Tell us a bit about that!
Misayo Ariga: This is our first project in which we are aiming not to make simple toys, but art objects. We collaborated with artists both from Japan and overseas, and tried to bring the concept of capsule toys to a new level.
The 8-bit pop unit YMCK (we just showed you before) got their own capsule toy key chain. © AVEX ENTERTAINMENT INC.
Atom Boy, one of the most popular creations of Osamu Tezuka, appears as an art capsule toy. © Tezuka Productions
Finally, is there anything you would like to try in the future?
Katsuhiko Onoo: Not long ago, there were still lots of dagashi. Children would stop by these shops after school and chat with the granny who ran the shops. It was a chance for kids to interact with adults outside of school, so it was really important for their development. But unfortunately there are very few left. So, in the future, we are planning to hold events where children and adults can interact through playing with capsule toys. By now, capsule toys are sold not only in Japan, but in so many countries. We would like to do something to help the world’s children have fun!
Thanks to Katsuhiko Onoo, Misayo Ariga, Chihiro Ishizaki and everyone at Yujin for their help! We hope you continue to bring us lots of joy in a little capsule!