The Japanese collectibles market features a dizzying array of concepts, series and brands. It can be tough to navigate, especially if you don’t speak Japanese! In this two-part series, we’ll introduce some popular collectible concepts, and tell you where they came from and where you can get them. In part one, we’ll deal with illustration-based collectibles, while part two deals with figures, dolls and plushies.
The main forms of 2D collectible series in Japan are acrylic key chains (アクリルキーホルダー, lit. acrylic key holder) with a ball-chain or key ring fastener, and rubber phone charms (ラバーストラップ, commonly referred to as rubber straps from the literal Japanese), which come with a nylon loop fastener.
Popular collections include: Yuri!!! on Ice, Hatsune Miku, Haikyuu!
Tsumamare straps and key chains are the perfect example of how one simple idea can have unimagined depths. The basic concept: if a giant hand reached in and summarily picked a character off the ground, what would they look like in mid-air? Outraged? Quietly fuming? Enjoying the thrill ride? Find new sides of your favorites by hunting down their Tsumamamare version.
Popular collections include: Osomatsu-san, Bungo Stray Dogs, Idol Master: Cinderella Girls
The “pita” in Pitakore is an onomatopoeia for something sticking closely to something else – for instance, a tight, clingy t-shirt is a pita-tee! This series of collectible rubber straps features chibified characters clinging on tightly to their favorite thing, or something else that represents them. Seeing your favorite character perfectly encapsulated in clingy chibi form is guaranteed to make you squee – or at least put a smile on your face!
Popular collections include: Touken Ranbu, Osomatsu-san, Love Live!
Niitengomu! has a long pedigree for a collectible character strap collection. Their “parent” product is Chara-Ani Toyworks’ popular Niitengo series of collectible mini figures, so named for their body proportion – 2.5 heads tall. 2.5 is ni-ten-go in Japanese, so you can see how it’s an apt name. As a result of these figures’ success, Toysworks branched out, creating the Niitengomu! line of collectible rubber straps featuring character illustration in the Niitengo style. The “mu” at the end introduces a fitting pun – “gomu” is Japanese for “rubber.” Having been on the scene for a while, there’s a huge selection of characters and titles to choose from. Try searching for your fave!
The Koedarize series is another line of collectibles that sprung from a popular trading figure design – Takara Tomy’s Koedarize figures based on 70s toy series Koeda-chan. Fans can’t get enough of the distinctive look, leading to the brand branching out to sub-series like Koedarize A and Koedarize R.
Koedarize A (こえだらいずA)i
Popular collections include: Touken Ranbu, Ensemble Stars, Sanrio Danshi
The A in Koedarize A stands for acrylic – this series features the adorable Koedarize illustrations printed on acrylic key holders. The ball chain closures mean you can use them for more than just your keys – they’ll look just as good attached to your bag.
Koedarize R (こえだらいずR)
Popular collections include: Ensemble Stars, Touken Ranbu, Haikyuu!
For a softer side of Koedarize, try the Koedarize R series of rubber trading straps. The black rubber background makes the lines in the illustration stand out for a bolder look than the acrylic key chains.
Popular collections include: IDOLiSH7, Free, KanColle
The Petanko series, available as both acrylic key chains and rubber phone straps, is also inspired by a namesake trading figure series. The name references an onomatopoeic expression (Japanese is particularly rich in these) for sitting down on the floor with a flop – the exact moment captured in the series.
Pita! Deforme (ぴた！でふぉめ)
Popular collections include: My Hero Academia, Osomatsu-san, Danganronpa
Remember how “pita” means two things being stuck close together? In this fun collection of keychains, the illustrations imagine what the characters would look like with their faces smushed up against glass. As anyone who’s ever tried a classic window face-smush can testify, this can make for hilarious results.
Popular collections include: IDOLiSH7, Kuroko’s Basket, Tales series
Do you prefer a straight-forward character portrait over smushed or clingy versions? CharaViny (lit. KyaraBini) might be for you! These straps do exactly what the name implies – give you character illustrations printed on clear vinyl. While there’s a solid chibi contingent here as well, this series is a reliable choice for illustrations capturing a character’s swoon-worthy sides.
Popular collections include: Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls, Bungo Stray Dogs, Osomatsu-san
The TojiKore series focuses on capturing characters, scenes and seasons – sometimes literally, with illustrations of characters caught inside snow globes or jars. Have they captured your favorite? Search for them on FROM JAPAN.
Lifespan of a collectible release
Pre-order: Pre-orders (予約) often start as a new line-up is announced, or just after. They tend only to be available for the full collection, and often come with a pre-order bonus (予約特典) – normally an extra character design only available with the pre-ordered set.
Release: The collection becomes available for general purchase! Most collections are released as a full box set, but some sellers might offer individual units. How wide the release is varies from brand to brand – and as with any other popular product, if you skip the pre-order and wait for the general release you risk missing out.
Sold out: The fans rushed to stores, and the collection is all sold out! But don’t give up yet – if you missed out, you’re still likely to find full sets on auction and flea market sites like Otamart and Yahoo! Auctions, and also listings for individual units, especially of less popular characters.
No matter what stage the collection of your dreams is at, FROM JAPAN can help by letting you search major Japanese auction sites, flea market sites and online retailers. Happy hunting!