The Null Device


One ubiquitous aspect of contemporary Japan is capsule machines. They're everywhere—outside and inside shops, at railway stations, in clusters in the street. Insert a few ¥100 coins (each being worth somewhere in the magnitude of a dollar/pound/euro) and turn the handle and the machine will disgorge, with a satisfyingly mechanical clunk, a small plastic capsule containing a small vinyl figurine. There is a hall full of these machines, arrayed in rows in the arrivals section of Tokyo Narita Airport; a sign next to them reads “welcome to deep Japanese culture”; which, at first, sounds preposterously hyperbolic, though, in retrospect, one could see the figurines in these capsules as a mass-production-age equivalent of the carved netsuke figurines of bygone days. (There are, of course, capsule vending machines at supermarkets and shopping centres in the west, but not at the same scale, and the flimsy, shoddily made plastic trinkets they dispense are a far cry from the Japanese figurines, which seem put together with considerably more thought and attention to detail.) Anyway, without further ado, here are some things found in Japanese capsule machines:

capsule summary

These items were all obtained from capusle machines in the Tokyo area, in March, 2017; some of them are more self-evident than others; a few will be described further below:

“Scottish Tissues”, a series of figurines of Scottish Fold cats climbing through tissue boxes; probably an off-brand attempt to cash in on the celebrity of Maru the box-jumping Scottish Fold.

There is an entire category of figurines designed to balance on the rims of drinking glasses, including two series of cats.

Things found on roofs, including, inevitably, cats

More cats, this time in keyring format, and with their heads through slices of bread.

This one, Cat And Crow, struck me as rather morbid. Notice the expression of morose resignation on the face of the doomed cat; the black crow is its inescapable companion, going where it goes throughout the rest of its life; in due time, the cat will die, and the crow will feast on its eyeballs. Cat And Crow appears to be a memento mori, an allegory to the inevitability of death.

There are, of course, also figures from the hit mobile game, Neko Atsume.

Parasite Creature, a series of deranged-looking vinyl heads which open up, revealing homunculi in the driving seat.

These came from a smaller, gumball-style machine in a store in Akihabara; one represents one of JR East's railway lines in Tokyo, and the other, I believe, Japanese restaurants.

Model railways in instalments. Each capsule contains either a carriage and a length of track or several lengths of track. Annoyingly enough, that machine contains several systems: a monorail, and conventional trains in several liveries. A bit over ¥1000 yielded a small monorail system and two orphan carriages.

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