...That's what he's making everyone call him now. I'm talkin' bout Roger Harkavy, who upon his departure from Japan several weeks back presented me with a doggy bag (and by "doggy bag" I don't mean the kind you take food home in, but rather the supermarket bags used to collect dog waste) full of gashapon mined from the legendary vending machines of Tokyo's Nakano Broadway. And let me tell you: these mothers is crazy.
Lest this degenerate into an oh-so-wacky-Japan essay, let me gloss this with a bit of context. In the West, gumball machines have traditionally been relegated to the ghetto of the toy world. In Japan, however, they're a veritable smorgasboard of cutting-edge toy design, fertile territory for all sorts of creative experimentation. They go by various names here -- "capsule toys," "gashapon," "gatcha-gatcha toys," to name a few. They retail for anywhere from 100 to 300 yen a pop, a far cry from the quarter-cost of my youth. Some are as cheesy as anything I grew up on in America. But every once in a while, a new batch comes along that blows even my jaded mind. Behold the Duke of Kichijoji's tithe to AltJapan.
Yujin's vaguely-named Children's Encylopedia Series doesn't feature children or encyclopedias but rather tiny cutaway views of cattle, chickens, pigs, human torsos, and this being Japan, tuna and fugu blowfish. Check out the tiny labels on each of the internal organs, and remember, kids: "it's against the law to prepare fugu without a license," according to the instruction manual included with the toy.
Also by Yujin, the Potter's Wheel Club. These are really ingenious: pull a string and the minature potter's wheel spins, letting you throw fingertip-sized lumps of clay into miniscule plates and cups. The kicker: you've got to gamble at the gumball machine, because clay's packaged in its own separate capsule. (I'm not sure what the clay is made of, but it looks like candy and smells disturbingly edible.)
Speaking of disturbingly edible: Sea Monsters! Actually, no: sea monkeys. These capsules are filled with tiny packages of brine shrimp that can be "rejuvenated" in water. Ethics of selling living creatures out of gumball machines aside, what are the health implications of children or drunk adults accidentally inhaling or consuming these microorganisms? (Strange but true sidenote: when I went to look for the packet of dessicated creatures after scanning the pamphlet, I couldn't find it. Did they rehydrate themselves and go on the lam?)
And last but not least, allow me to present the Gorgeous Toilets Series. Available in five varieties (dare I say "flavors"?) of Japanese-style, Toilet Paper Holder, Urinal, and Western-style (chrome and translucent variations). Roger gave me the chrome western-style one. Lift the lid and find... A rainbow-clored turd inside. Thanks, Rog! I think...