One of things I find so fascinating about gachapon toys is how so many themes incorporate or reference classic Japanese culture. This pvc Gojira/ Godzilla strap is made to look like it was carved into a wooden netsuke. The mixture of old and new creates an object with significant cultural meaning beyond its licensed character origins.
The first gacha craze to take hold in Japan, were these plastic skull head toys from 1965. The history of this first gacha gacha craze can be traced back to the personal website of Mr.Ryuzo Shigeta, known today as “Gacha-gacha Ojisan” (Gacha Gacha Grandpa). Shigeta and his brother, Tetsuo Shigeta, are responsible for helping start Penny Shokai (ペニイ商会), the first gacha gacha vending machine company in Japan in 1965. His’s website is a great resource for researchers, as it tells his own personal account of the many highlights and challenges of bringing gacha gacha machines to Japan.
According to Shigeta, the first toy prizes available in Japanese gacha gacha machines, were imported from Hong Kong. The skellys were marketed as a premium “catch” item, basically something that would entice the children to spend their yen, but would need multiple attempts to secure a skeleton head. It was mixed in a selection of 300 pieces of random plastic charms, at a at a 10% ratio. According to an article in a January 28, 1966 issue of the Japanese magazine Asahi Graph (アサヒグラフ), Japanese school children went wild for these skeleton toys, and spent many yen coins to secure their own.
It is possible that these toys were designed by Les O. Hardman, of Penny King but there is no PK stamp to be found. It is also possible that these were designed by Penny Shokai. They were made in Hong Kong, which would soon become the industry standard for overseas manufacture in the US through the 1980s. There were three colors available at that time, white, blue and red. I do believe that they were available to purchase in the US as well, as I have seen them appear on US eBay from time to time. They are not incredibly difficult to find, but for collectors looking to purchase, expect to pay at least $25 USD.
There have been many iconic gachapon toys that have captivated children and adults alike since the birth of the Japanese gachapon industry in 1965. From super car erasers and Kinkeshi to Ultraman finger puppets and Fuchiko on Cup figures, “must have” gachapon toy crazes have not only helped boost sales, but have deepened capsule toys’ role in Japanese popular culture. Japanese media often refers to these crazes as “waves”, the first wave is commonly referred to as the “keshi gomu” era, a time during the 1980s when monochromatic rubber like figures based on popular anime, manga and licensed characters were all the rage. However, it was these quirky plastic skull toys with pop out eyes and tongue, that helped Penny Shokai (ペニイ商会) win the hearts (and pocket money) of children establish the gacha gacha industry in Japan.