One doesn't go to Japan without hoping to pick up some great loot -- especially if one is a Transformers collector and a fan of a great many Japanese things. I went with some hopes (particularly Transformers-wise), but I was also looking to be surprised. I'm happy to say that I met both expectations. Let's start with a surprise.
The first toy I actually bought was in a 7-Eleven: a Candroid. What is a Candroid? Well, they're so uniquely Japanese, it's no surprise that neither you nor I had ever heard of them. They are apparently a small sub-line belonging to a larger franchise called Kamen Rider OOO. I don't really know anything about the Kamen Rider, but I know that he can summon the "Ride Vendor," a motorcycle that transforms into a vending machine. You insert special "coins" into the vending machine and out pops a Candroid:
Then you pull the "tab" on the "can" which "activates" it, transforming the can into a Candroid:
If you're thinking that only in a country so glutted with vending machines would anyone come up with these toys, you would probably be right. But that just makes them more awesome! Plus they came with candy (like a big Sweet Tart). It took me the whole vacation, but I finally found all nine. Sadly, I couldn't find the Ride Vendor. I'll keep hunting for it via eBay, of course. Anyway. Candroids! A good start.
Staying with the candy toys for just a bit longer, I also picked up a number of Transformers Kabaya sets, which are tiny Transformers that you build yourself like a model kit. And they come with a stick of gum. At this point the gum might be an afterthought. I actually saw some of the vintage Kabaya sets from the 80's: they were going for between ¥9,000 and ¥14,000. That's a lot.
I previously mentioned finding a delightful store in Shimo-Kitazawa called "Toys Paradise" and picking up some vintage American instruction booklets and Japanese catalogs. Well, here they are:
It was always my intention to pick up something Godzilla-related during my trip, but I wasn't sure exactly what. I didn't want any of the "realistic" models, because they always disappoint me. (And they're terribly expensive.) So when I found these super-deformed, battery-powered walking Gojira and Mekagojira figures in the same shop, I knew I had found that perfect blend of kitsch and excellence.
Within my first few days in Japan I had already hit most all the major vintage stores, including all three Tokyo Mandarake stores. Sadly, I was seeing mostly things I already had or didn't really want. However, on my first day of hunting, in a small toy shop in the Broadway Mall, I found a lone Transformer in an otherwise Transformer-less glass case:
Hardhead! The last 1987 Autobot Headmaster I needed, and the one I had been most actively seeking in the States. And here he was! But the price (¥12,000) was a little more than I really wanted to pay. After all, I normally buy my vintage TFs complete but loose, which would be about 30% cheaper. So I initially left Hardhead in the store to see what else Tokyo had to offer.
By the end of the week, though, not having found any other vintage Transformers to compete for my attention, I went back and snagged this dude. I figured: a) he's complete, right down to all the original inserts and the original (depleted) sticker sheet; b) the box makes him distinctly Japanese, and therefore an excellent souvenir; and c) it's wonderful synchronicity, since he's the guy I'm actually primarily searching for in America. Done. Nice, isn't he?
On my second-to-last full day in Japan, I decided to start hitting the major stores again to see if they had any newly-arrived vintage stock. In one of the Liberty stores I happened upon a loose but complete "Jet Pack Bumblebee" from the Transformers: Animated line. Originally slated for a stateside release, the line was cancelled and this figure was only released in Japan. While I loved Animated, I didn't want to pay $45 for him. But $15 (¥1,200)? Oh, hell yeah. Now my Animated collection is complete!
I had really wanted to get my hands on one or two vintage Transformers that had been exclusive to Japan, and with only a day left to search I was getting almost desperate. I returned to the eighth floor of the Akihabara Mandarake to see what was there. They still had the sad-looking Deszaras as well as two boxed Overlords. The Deszaras looked too beat up to buy, so although I wasn't terribly enthused I decided I might content myself with one of the Overlords. Unfortunately, both boxes had little post-its on them with scary, indecipherable Japanese writing. What did they say? It might be "missing several pieces" or "some stuff is broken" or "horribly yellowed"... I had no way of knowing! (Sure, they would open it up for me, but I'm not an expert on Overlord.) I decided I would find a Mandarake employee who could translate for me even if I had to search all eight floors to find them.
I started at the eighth-floor counter where I politely accosted several employees. To say that their English was piecemeal, reluctant and unencouraging would be an understatement. Still, one unhappy employee followed me back to the Overlords and attempted to translate. "Da-mage... bo-xo.... damage boxo." And things didn't really progress past that. "Oh boy," I thought, "This is not going well."
Then a voice to my left said, "The box is damaged. And there's a piece missing." I turned to see a friendly face eyeing the Transformers alongside me. "You can translate this?!?" I asked in disbelief.
He could, for the most part. It turns out that this especially friendly guy, who's name I learned was Arthur, was a TFW2005.com board member by the handle of Bodhar2000. He actually grew up in Pennsylvania only a couple hours from my hometown. He's been living in Tokyo teaching English for five years, and the Japanese he's learned is a result of immersion -- and being a rabid Transformers fan. He's also actually a casual dealer, picking up and re-selling pieces to help afford his own collecting habit.
So we started shooting the shit about Transformers, and all the various shops in town, and my sad quest to find something Japanese-exclusive and memorable. I told him I really wanted a Breastforce member, either Deszaras or one or two of the Liokaiser members.
And then he said: "I actually have a boxed Liokaiser for sale for ¥70,000." That translates to about $900 and is a very good price for a complete Liokaiser. I saw the same earlier in the week for $1,500.
It was much more than I wanted to spend. Buying it would actually be rather foolish.
We agreed to meet the next day.
Which was actually my last full day in Japan. We found a Starbucks where Arthur bought me a tea and got us a table. And then we chatted for about an hour about life in Japan, the recent major earthquake, Transformers, tolerant and intolerant wives, and a bunch of other stuff. For much of the conversation the Liokaiser sat in front of us. The toys were in superb condition, with no yellowing, and of course all the little (extremely expensive) pieces were there. The stickers were complete, if a little rough (obviously applied by the original owner back in 1989). But these are just details: I already knew I was going to buy it.
See, one of things I value most about my Transformers is the stories that go along with them: winning Blaster in a writing contest; being given Piranacon by a friend I subsequently lost; finding Beachcomber on a playground; the long road to completing Monstructor... and now meeting and buying a Liokaiser from a great guy I met by pure chance in Tokyo!
Yes, after I bought Fortress Maximus, I said that Liokaiser would be my next "Holy Grail," but that the cost was so exorbitant I would probably buy the six figures individually over several years. Well... obviously I wrong. It might have been foolish, but it felt right. I'm sticking by that. (I guess Deszaras is my next Holy Grail, but I can't see purchasing that without a similar personal connection. We'll see.)
I plan on savoring Liokaiser. I have yet to actually transform any of them. I'll probably pull one out next week, and another one every subsequent week. At this rate I'll form Liokaiser sometime in October. It will be divine.
So that's my loot! Other than the above purely selfish items, I also found a few souvenirs for a very small group of people, most notably my wife. Unfortunately, Dollface does not actually like very many Japanese things (apart from sushi). By their nature, however, souvenirs are supposed to reflect their point of origin. This made things difficult. Fortunately, apart from some candy and other small tidbits, I think I found her three things that were somewhat appropriate:
A bronze replica of the Kamakura Daibutsu.
Dollface has a bit of a Buddha motif.
All in all, a good haul! And when I got home, I was warmly welcomed!
It's good to be back!