By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
Five years ago, businessman Tetsu Shiota embarked on a mission to bring one of the world’s largest toy companies to Little Tokyo. Earlier this month, he made history when he opened Bandai’s first specialty store in the U.S.
The goal, according to Shiota, is to expand the new store, Gashapon, and introduce its concept nationwide.
Aware that many stores selling anime-themed products in America “ignore copyright,” Shiota, who owns Anime Jungle, Entertainment Hobby Shop Jungle, and Little Akihabara Holdings in the Little Tokyo Mall, emphasizes that his product “is 100 percent authentic.”
He adds that all items manufactured and distributed by Bandai meet U.S. safety and quality standards.
Entering the new store, the customer encounters a colorful array of sights and sounds emanating from rows of vending machines. The name Gashapon stems from the spinning sound (gasha) activated when a token is dropped into the machine. A capsule containing an official Bandai toy is dispensed with a pop sound (pon).
Shiota’s expansion of his business model reaches beyond his anime stores. He hopes to help establish and sustain Little Tokyo as a hub of Japanese culture in America.
Bandai Company, Ltd. was established in 1961, achieving initial success with action figures based on the anime “Astro Boy” (“Tetsuwan Atomu” in Japanese). Today, the Tokyo-based company is ranked alongside Mattel and Hasbro as one of the world’s largest and most profitable toy companies. Bandai is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bandai Namco Holdings with offices in California, Mexico, the U.K., France, Spain, Taiwan, and mainland China.
For the past four years, Shiota has worked closely with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), Little Tokyo Business Association, and Anime Jungle to provide shuttle buses to bring hundreds of Anime Expo attendees from the L.A. Convention Center to Little Tokyo.
Location: 319 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
Hours: Wednesday-Monday, 12 to 7 p.m. (closed Tuesday)