Buying Japan’s Most Popular Toy Was Crazy Hard

Buying Japan’s Most Popular Toy Was Crazy Hard

You know the routine. New popular toy comes out. It quickly vanishes from store shelves. And when it’s finally in stock, you gotta line up. That was this morning, but with a slight twist and months of waiting.

After breakfast earlier today, my whole family — all five of us — piled into the car and headed over to a very local Toys R Us in suburban Osaka in attempt to buy a Yokai Watch watch.

Right now, kids in Japan are enamoured with Yokai Watch. They love it! The anime and games have become incredibly popular, for the time being, even appearing to challenge Pokémon’s hold on cute monsters.

Yokai Watch features traditional yokai (loosely, monsters) from Japanese folklore as well as new ones created by game developer Level-5. Japanese kids love yokai, and Level-5 has tailored Yokai Watch to please the country’s youth (which reinforces my theory that Japan is often at its best when it designs games and anime to suit local tastes).

For what seems like months, my middle son, who is five, has wanted a yokai watch, which we had promised him for Children’s Day if he continued to clean up and help around the house. He did, but we couldn’t hold up our end of the deal. Damn us.

Note: The yokai watch doesn’t tell time. You put yokai medals in it, and it makes noises that correspond to the different medals. There’s also a light you can shine on the side of the watch to “see” the yokai.

Every time we went to toy stores, we checked to see if they are in stock, and they never were. He’s even started phoning up Toys R Us to see if they have the watch in stock or if they are getting a shipment. For a five year old, he’s gotten pretty good at calling Toys R Us. But, no luck. Either the store just sold out or didn’t know when the next shipment was coming. Family friends were able to find a yokai watch, but alas, we kept coming up short.

It is possible to buy a yokai watch right now on Amazon Japan… for double the 3,200 yen (US$31) retail price. That’s for the deluxe version — the just released Type-Zero version is going for nearly $US130.

There are collectible plastic yokai medals, which feature the different yokai. For the longest time, it was incredibly hard to buy these little plastic pucks, let alone secure a watch. Recently, however, it’s gotten slightly easier.

Level-5, which until now was best known for Professor Layton, has been incredibly smart about the yokai medals. There is a Yokai Watch kiddy arcade game that is totally free — as long as you have medals. If you have medals, then you can play the arcade game. You don’t even need to insert coins.

Picture: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku

Of course, the idea is that kids will buy yokai medals to play the game, so that’s how they will get your money. But the concept is rather brilliant: It’s a monster battle game, and if kids win, the capsule toy machine that’s connected to the arcade game will spit out a free capsule, which contains a rare yokai medal. That’s why children line up to play the free game, which has rules like, one-play per person, etc. Like I said, it’s rather brilliant.

A few weeks ago, my middle son was rumaging around, looking for paper and scissors. I asked him what he was doing, and he said, “I’m making a yokai watch.” Which he did.

Picture: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku

On the way to Toys R Us this morning, we took a poll in the car, trying to predict how many people were lined up. My oldest son, who’s 11, said, “A couple hundred.” I said he was crazy, and there would probably be sixty — which was the most I had ever seen lined up there (this was a few years back, for a Kamen Rider toy).

Picture: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku

When we arrived at our local Toys R Us, there were already over two hundred people in line. This line wrapped around the building.

Still, to provide context, here are some photos of people over the past few months, lining up for yokai watches.

Picture: mondaiji39

Picture: knbr77

Picture: rampante550

[Photos: kaztsu

Thankfully, we were in the shade and didn’t have to wait that long. By the time tickets were distributed, there were well over four hundred people — or more, in line. Later, we heard that the total number of tickets distributed was over five hundred. Here are some of our tickets:

Picture: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku

These tickets did not guarantee we could buy either of these watches — simple maths explains that. Instead, these tickets were so we could enter a raffle to win a chance to buy one of these toys.

That’s right. We lined up for a chance to win the opportunity to spend money.

Picture: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku

The above sign says that today this Toys R Us got in 36 deluxe yokai watches, and ten type-zero yokai watches.

Picture: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku

After getting our tickets, we had to keep waiting in line so we could then stuff them in ballot boxes for the raffle.

Since there are five of us, including the new baby, our odds were ok, I guess. But still hardly great — thirty-six out of five hundred people could get the watches. We explained to my middle kid that he might not win, and he said he understood and that lining up this morning had been fun.

Then, at 3pm today, the results were set to be announced. And the winners could then buy the yokai watches.

And, finally, today at 3pm, we went to Toys R Us and read through this list, trying to see if our numbers matched. One of them did.

Picture: Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku

When I presented my son with the yokai watch, I asked him what he was going to do with the papercraft he made. “Oh, I’ll keep it in case this one breaks.”


  • I wasn’t expecting this article to have as much dramatic tension as it did. Great read. Thanks for sharing!

  • I thought at the age of 25 I wouldn’t have to deal with that kind of situation again until I had my own child. Then I learnt about Marvel Dice Masters. It’s not quite the same as lining up at a store to get some. But my set has been on preorder for a long time and people are charging extortionate prices online for the starter sets and booster packs.
    Your boy must be super stoked, he is very lucky!

  • Wow, not many kids these days have been raised to accept the disappointments so well. Good job

  • I know Level-5 is probably having supply issues, but they really need to up their output. Look at how many people want it! It’s not like they’re increasing the price, just the 3rd party eBay sellers.

    On another note, they really need to make Ni No Kuni 2. Incorporate the familiars concept with this physical aspect and they will kill it (all while having gorgeous video cutscenes from Studio Ghibli, man that game was fantastic)

  • Unfortunately the yokai watch, in my opinion copied, that is right copied, the omnimatrix, a watch based SUPERWEAPON from ben 10, which is able to transform the weilder into uber aliens, much as how the yokai watch can store I not don’t know possibly the frikkin orochi. I mean both the omnimatrix & the yokai watch are similar, so if you want to do a comparison review, then do it

      • I was a teen in the 00’s when this show (ben 10) first aired, also I lived in area with very bad tv reception, thus requiring satelitte tv to get good tv, but if you were to bring up an age question, you must remember when a certain show first airs when making a comparison comment. Also you can ascertain from the majority from people who comment on this website like to bring up shows they watched in the childhoods and teens, to which they can make comparisons to old and new media, such as a life of a geek

  • Glad to see Level-5 doing so well, definitely one of my favorite Japanese developers. Fingers crossed they might use some of this revenue to make Dark Cloud 3!

  • the one thing i learnt on my last trip to Japan – is that Japanese people will line up for ANYTHING, and they’ll line up for hours at a time with perfect patience and almost zero bitching. I even found a Max Brenner cafe that people were lining up for over an hour for. Craziness. But incredibly polite craziness.

  • I feel really bad for you guys, I only got mine for 3 dollars no hassle! (Because my toys r us was closing due to freaking k b toys)

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