SAN DIEGO — Japanese influence is seen throughout California and it’s growing exponentially when it comes to anime and gaming.
In the heart of Old Town in San Diego, a little corner shop named GUNNZO is filled with brightly-colored characters and models. Tokidoki, Figuarts minis and Gundam may not ring a bell for some, but they’re all part of mainstream pop culture in Japan and they’re quickly making their way into millions of U.S. households.
Whether it’s because of the rise in gaming or ease of streaming your favorite anime, GUNNZO lets visitors get hands-on with a popular Japanese hobby. Gundam figures and models are part of a brand created in 1979 and the toys are a favorite of kids and adults alike.
“I’ve seen a mother and son building together,” GUNNZO owner Chika Sasaki said. “I’ve seen a customer, a father, say, ‘Oh, I used to watch this.’ And then the kid says, ‘Oh OK, let’s try to build!’”
In the past year, Sasaki says people have been collecting the models more than ever.
“They say, ‘Chika, you don’t sell toys, you sell addictions,’” she said. “And they get addicted because you focus on building, and you’re satisfied after building this cool-looking toy.”
Sasaki also described the allure of the Japanese culture of cute or “kawaii” — for example, the Hello Kitty Summer Olympics toys, which are already sold out at her shop, but the Team USA and Sanrio collaboration was still in stock online.
Whether it’s something cute or a giant robot, the elements of Japanese pop culture are certainly celebrated in the states. And if you’re looking for a way to pass the time, a visit to the shop could be the start of a great new hobby.