Figures from "Episode of Characters" appeared in popular anime "One Piece", series of shokugan released by Bandai © Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha - Fuji TV - Toei Animation
If you go to a supermarket in Japan, in one corner of the snack section you’ll find a place popular with children where they sell sets with both a toy and a snack in small boxes. In these small boxes is a small toy "shokugan" which can easily be bought with small change. “shokugan” is an abbreviation of a Japanese expression for "Food Toys" and is even known abroad by this name. These small boxes contain a toy, each of which is carefully crafted, ranging from popular animation characters, animals, dinosaurs, vehicles, to robots, and come packed with unique ideas and the superb skills of the craftsmen who produced them.
Anime heroes leap out
The "Nameko" character figure, which emerged from a popular smart phone game, in gum © Beeworks / SUCCESS
Have you ever bought snacks or cereal because you wanted the bonus toy? The distinctive characteristic of Japanese shokugan, which arose from such food extras, is that the toy has become the main product rather than the food. Most of the boxes contain only a few chocolates or lemonade candy. The Japanese company which initially thought of displaying toys in the candy section apparently thought that while large presents are only given on birthdays or at Christmas, if the toy is combined with a snack and can be bought with only a few hundred yen of pocket money then the children will become more familiar with toys.
Shokugan dinosaur figures which appear as though they may come alive at any moment.
The most popular shokugan series among children are those with figures of hero and heroine characters which appear in manga, anime or games. The three-dimensional expressions and poses of the dolls included in the boxes are so vivid as to appear almost as though they leapt out of the TV screen.
Shokugan in which you can enjoy both the word and animal with one set of parts “Super transformation!! Mojibakeru”. With designs from single character, the Chinese character for “dragon” is changed into a fearsome dragon and the Chinese character for “lion” is transformed into a lion cub. © Bandai
There are also shokugan which are not characters but which use unique ideas to create fun. The "Super transformation!! Mojibakeru" which appeared in 2010, is a popular series in which small parts in the box are assembled to take the form of an animal and the Japanese character for the animal’s name. There are even difficult characters such as dinosaur and shark and these ingenious designs have also earned the admiration of people abroad, and have been certified to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fathers and mothers will happily buy these for their children because they think they will spark an interest in studying Japanese characters.
A votive tablet with a prayer for success at entrance exams included in Glico caramels (Courtesy of Ezaki Glico)
There is also a snack producer which sells a set of caramels and a wooden votive tablet, usually received when you visit a Shinto shrine to pray that you will pass your entrance exam before advancing to a new school.