These days, its hardly unusual to see a middle-aged man hanging a plastic charm or toy on his cell phone or carrybag. In fact, the popularity of these capsule toys (
Capsule toys, also called gashapon in Japanese, are sold from vending machines in plastic capsules. Different toys are sold in the same machine, so you can't predict which one you'll get. Most of them are small figures of cute characters from Japanese comics, but does the same marketing technique work for figures of betel nut beauties (檳榔西施), Eight Generals (八家將), Jay Chou (周杰倫), girls in high school uniforms, and China's Terra-cotta warriors?
It certainly does. Just such local Taiwanese icons, made into capsule toys, earned Tommy Bear Company (新大公司) more than NT$2 million in two weeks at a toy exhibition in Kaohsiung County this February, according to Yao Sheng-hsien (姚聖賢), the chairman of the company.
Yao said the best selling series was the betel nut girls, which outsold Barbie in the exhibition. Scantily-clad betel nut girls soliciting drivers from roadside kiosks are a typically Taiwanese pheno-menon, and the company thought it would be a good idea to incorporate this into its range of gashapon. Now they have inspired a craze for these new, and local, toys.
"I was so surprised! I'd never seen such stuff before. I snapped them up at an online auction. My colleagues keep asking me where I get them," said ZxSonics, on a chatroom site. He even admonished other netizens: "Don't buy Japanese gashapon anymore. To show your love of Taiwan, you should buy local ones."
How is it that these plastic beauties, wearing hot pants, bikinis or cheer-leader outfits, attract many young male collectors? "We spent much time studying betel nut girls -- their poses. We drove around the island, taking pictures of them, and then incorporated the cutest poses into our design," Yao told the Taipei Times.
Figures of school girls are also hugely popular and more than a little kinky. The uniforms are selected by netizens, and the most popular have been Kaohsiung Municipal Girls' Senior High School (高雄女中), National Tainan Chia-Chi Girl's Senior High School (家齊高中) and National Taichung Nursing College (台中護校). According to Yao, they satisfy collectors' nostalgia of their high school days.
According to Susan Yu (于珊), a staff member at Tommy Bear, the figure of the Kaohsiung Girls' Senior High School was actually decided on by one of the designers as a memorial to unrequited love. "He designed the doll as a comfort," she said.
Tommy Bear has already embarked on designing another series of school uniform figures.
According to Yao, Jay Chou says the 12 figure series dedicated to the pop star has earned his approval.
The price of these capsule toys range from NT$100 to NT$150 for each capsule, twice the price of Japanese gashapon. But the figures are bigger and there is a chance to get one free if you win a finger-guessing game against the vending machine.
For more information, check out the company's Web site: www.tommy-bear.com.tw.