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Toy hunters help collectors of Japanese pop culture goods

By Patrick W Galbraith

Figures. Models. Shokugan. Plamo. Garage kits. Chogokin. The list of toys collected by otaku overseas is only rivaled by the number of anime, video games and special effects movies fueling these products. Wading through stores looking for the right prize can be daunting. Luckily, there are toy hunters.

“Most of the time I know the inventory of these secondhand shops better than the staff,” says Adrian Lozano, a 35-year-old Southern California native. “I don’t know the names or the series they come from, but I know the colors and shapes and memorize spatially.”

Lozano has been hunting toys in Tokyo for three years. He makes a decent living off super robots, merchandise and PVC figures. He works in Akihabara as a computer administrator and makes the rounds at a dozen stores four times a week, in addition to scoping out exhibitions farther afield.

The figure revolution in Japan got its start following advances in resin kits in the ’80s and, in the ’90s, figures based on the anime series "Neon Genesis Evangelion." By 2000, detailed figures, trading toys and quality prizes found in food packages hit the shelves, driving up demand from otaku in Japan as well as those overseas, where figures had been typically seen as just toys (with the exception of Todd McFarlane’s lines). Japanese stock was difficult to obtain in other countries due to limited runs and restrictive licenses and distribution agreements.

AAA and J-List were early distribution leaders, but their choices were limited. Those wanting to buy other items online had to use brokers who spoke Japanese and had a Japanese credit card.

Enter the toy hunters. At first, these intrepid explorers would put out information on new toys, and buyers would make requests on BBS sites. The buyer set a price, and hunters in Japan would purchase the item and pocket the difference between the actual price and the buyer’s.

It wasn’t until eBay got really big that people began to realize the value of these toys. You could buy an item for 1,000 yen and sell it for $100; the average profit was 300%. Lozano recalls buying a two-figure set for 9,000 yen and selling it for $600.

But collectors have the upper hand now, and some have taken to branding the hunters as “flippers” who drive up prices. What’s more, professional figure sellers are targeting online and overseas customers.

Like it or not, hunters are on the rise and the market is fierce. Not only are there professional outlets and factory-direct sales, but Japanese are selling their old toys on eBay without knowing the value, which drives down prices. Competition among hunters is also increasing, as people get wind of the business opportunities. For example, sales of Transformers goods increased drastically because of the Hollywood movie. But newcomers seldom realize which toys are valuable and inundate the market with product that discourages demanding connoisseurs. English teachers crowd into events with Japanese students to purchase limited-edition items.

“Overseas, there is a lot of interest, but no actual contact from Japanese companies,” says Teppei Harada, 32, who was in the toy business for 10 years before founding exporter Over Drive in 2006. “There is a risk in trying to sell overseas, but the Japanese market is saturated.” Over Drive has seen a 300% growth in its figure sales, and has begun manufacturing products on its own at a factory in China.

Times may be tough, but Lozano insists his drive to hunt was never about fame or fortune. “It gets you out there finding stuff and looking in places others don’t,” he says. “There is a thrill in the hunt that is rewarding.”

To track down that hard-to-find item, consult the following: Big Bad Toy Store (www.bigbadtoystore.com/bbts/default.aspx); Anglo’s Store (http://stores.ebay.com.my/Anglos-Toys); HobbyLink Japan (www.hlj.com); Over Drive (www.over-drive-inc.com/store); Tokyo Hunter (http://tokyo hunter.blogspot.com)

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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You forgot a major store:


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I have a huge collection of phone straps and coca cola stuff. Even un opened coca cola bottles in the boxes sealed with the yoyos. Cool stuff.

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I used to collect toys but i stopped.

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outside the big cities in Japan you can find interesting thing in shops like Geemu sokou (game warehouse), 2nd street, house off, doki doki or just small second hand shops

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I remember when this hobby was not too expensive...damn economy...

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English teachers crowd into events with Japanese students to purchase limited-edition items. Why are English teachers needed?

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Most laugh this off as an Otaku thing to do but if you get bitten I'm sorry to say it's worse that gambling or a drug addiction (so I've been told). ;)

Me, I wouldn't have a clue as I only buy what I don't really need to live but live to buy. :P

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Cool, you mean those Coca Cola, Sprite, etc. yoyos from the mid 80's? Wow, talk about strolling down memory lane!...

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don't forget these two: http://www.strapya-world.com/ and http://www.1999.co.jp/eng/

you can buy stuff from them from overseas at regular retail japanese prices. and last time i bought something from strapya world, it only cost US$5 to ship to the states.

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