JAPAN - PART 5 Ending In Osaka

During a voyage to Japan, I relentlessly hunted for Japanese TMNT toys. What did I uncover? Pack your bags for a cowabunga-fueled trip to the Far East.

Kyoto cleansed my conscious, but the city was a toy wasteland. The shrines and temples were spiritual centers for tourists, not comic con visitors. Osaka was the last leg of my journey, my last opportunity for Japanese toy discoveries.

2 days. That's all I had left. The finals moments of my lengthy expedition. I couldn't spend them solely searching for toys. I would have to wedge my hunt in between other activities. With a meticulous itinerary and a little bit of luck, I hoped to find the Heroes in a Halfshell in Osaka.

Turtle Power reared its head at the Osaka Aquarium. But, it was an actual, living, breathing turtle - not one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja variety. I imagined a red bandanna flowing from his reptilian head, doing an unpredictable aquatic dance within the confines of the tank. Clearly, TMNT toys were on my mind.

The 8-leveled aquarium is one of the largest in the world. Time stood still as I meandered through the dark network of oceanic passages. An indigo haze beamed from the tanks, casting a hypnotic spell on me. The hours of the day were flying by, but to me, the devious hex had stopped time.

The spell wore off after much of the day had passed. I left the aquarium, still in a semi-haze, and entered an adjacent market in search of a cold beverage. A refreshing jolt of green tea would set me straight.

As I searched for a vending machine, the hunger for toy hunting had returned. A wall of toy machines suddenly appeared before me. Was this a mirage?

My eye spotted a glimmer of Turtle Power. I tiptoed closer and inspected the machines like a detective on the verge of solving a high-profile case. My investigation revealed a simple process to obtain a toy: toss in a couple of coins, turn the handle, and a mystery prize falls from the shoot.

GASHAPON! That's what the Japanese call these things (an onomatopoeia made up of two sounds: "gasha" for the turning of the crank, and "pon" for the toy capsule dropping into the receptacle).

I slid a few yen coins into the slot. With a twist of crank (gasha!), a plastic capsule abandoned its group and rolled down (pon!) for me to collect.

Without hesitation, I cracked open the purple sphere. A tiny Donatello peered out from his plastic capsule like a chickling from an egg.

I would have no problem getting this small guy on the plane.

With Donatello in my pocket, I navigated to the Shinsaibashi ward. A handful of promising toy stores were located here. I climbed up the staircases of these hidden establishments, scouring every inch of them, but ultimately left empty-handed.

The clocks in Osaka moved faster. Time passed at a record pace. I fought it off with sleepless nights and spontaneous energy, but the unwelcome moment forced itself upon me - the final day of my trip. Bittersweet? There was nothing sweet about it.

I wanted one last hurrah. My Japanese toy hunt needed to end with a bang, not a whimper. My carry-on was destined to have foreign Turtle treasures bursting at its seams. A cute store, off the beaten path in the Nishi ward was my last hope. After a series of twists and turns, down a desolate alley, and quick jaunt through a fish market, I arrived at Pop Soda.

Although it's small, the quirky store is a cove of toy treasures. There's something for everyone here. American classics, Japanese favorites, and even a slew of vintage fast food memorabilia. It's an 80's & 90's haven, with toys draped over every inch of space.

Pop Soda is a like an extremely slow NASCAR race. You'll emerge victorious only by making endless laps through the store. With each pass, new discoveries are had. The only pit stop needed is at the cash register to make a purchase. And if you're lucky, you'll take a victory lap too.

I wanted that last hurrah, and Pop Soda gave it to me. Combing through their collection, I unearthed a diverse lot of TMNT toys.

It wasn't Japanese, but it was cheap. Ripped-Up Raphael was too funny to pass up. For only a few bucks, he deserved a trip back to America.

This was also the first item I spotted from the 2K3 series. It rounded out the Turtle-timeline of my souvenirs. I now had something from the original show, the 2K3 series, and the current Nickelodeon run.

In my life, health and fitness are a priority, but in The Sewer Den? Not so much. Hopefully this gym rat can bring the bulk.

Next up, I nabbed another non-Japanese toy. This was again going against my credo of buying American merchandise. But, it was the final day of my trip. Time to treat myself.

I piled up reasons to buy the Ninja Marble Shooter in an effort to ease the guilt. First was the obvious - I always wanted a one! Collecting wacky TMNT merchandise is my absolute favorite. A Ninja Marble Shooter?! That fits the bill.

The packaging also provided a zany, Japanese touch. The crazy character design is highlighted by the word "Ninja" written as big as a billboard. Ninjas are pretty Japanese.

Not many TMNT toys boast a vac metal finish, but the Ninja Marble Shooter does. The flashy figure gleams like many other Japanese toys I encountered on my trip.

There was also a Pizza Point on the back of the packaging. It's impossible to dismiss a Pizza Point.

After more digging in Pop Soda, I uncovered Samurai Don. But, the packaging was again in English, and I also have this figure from my childhood. I guess all my discoveries couldn't be winners...

I was about to move on, but then I noticed something hiding behind the figure. Tucked deep within the packaging, Japanese characters were begging for my attention.

I plucked the figure off the shelf and flipped it over. The package was an American release, but a sorry, Japanese sticker had been slapped on the bottom. This must have been a very cheap method to add international appeal to an American toy.

The irregular distribution techniques of 1993 Turtle toys were super weird. Why go so cheap when selling toys overseas?

The pathetic packaging deemed this figure a must-have. The American-Japanese hybrid would be an interesting addition to The Sewer Den. And again, the price was a bargain - less expensive than the current Nickelodeon figures.

With my loot in tow, I headed to the counter. A bittersweet calm lingered as the clerk rang up my strange collection of TMNT goods. This was it - my last toy purchase. Soon I would be on a plane headed home.

As if the clerk sensed this, he mysteriously slide another TMNT toy my way. I like to believe he too wanted to prolong the final moments of my toy hunt.

He lifted his hand to reveal another figure from the third TMNT film. There was nothing American about it. There was also nothing Japanese about it either. Sacré bleu! It was French!

The packaging was legitimately in French. No sloppy stickers or a measly pamphlet to make this figure foreign. The design was similar to the American release, but morsels of the French language were sprinkled on both sides of the packaging.

Through a series of hand gestures, I learned the price, was once again, a bargain. But, did I really want a French figure as a Japanese souvenir?

A few years ago, I took a trip to Paris. My crusade for French TMNT toys was a total failure - not finding a single thing. Maybe my toy karma had shifted and the missing opportunities were now presenting themselves?

It didn't take much convincing - I bought it.

Les Tortues Ninja was an unconventional toy to cap off my quest. The French addition morphed the status of my souvenir collection from Japanese to international. Konichiwa, bonjour, hello - what's the difference? Turtle Power is universal.

Clinging to a big bag of toys, I celebrated the finale of my hunt with another Japanese baseball game. The Hanshin Tigers had a sold-out stadium packed with roaring fans. The atmosphere was electric. The passionate Osaka fans never went silent.

I smirked at the collection of Turtle toys stowed beneath my seat. Here I was, in Osaka, Japan, celebrating a triumphant toy hunt with the cheers 48,000 people echoing my success. During the 7th inning stretch, fans launched balloons from their seats while chanting a celebratory song. The dizzying whirl of festivity was surreal.

Sure, the spectacle was for the Hanshin Tigers. But, I like to think it was all for me and my Turtle toys.


All my luggage was checked. The only item in my possession was a giant bag of TMNT toys. I lugged the sack through airport security and delicately placed it in the plane's overhead compartment. I snapped my seatbelt tight and prepared for the flight.

27 excruciating and sleepless hours later, my journey came to a close. I entered my NYC apartment in the dead of night. Nothing greeted me, but silence. The hustle of Tokyo, the tranquility of Kyoto, the liveliness of Osaka - it was all gone.

I lowered my collection of toys to the floor. The painful silence turned the soft clunk into a deafening crash. I tip-toed from room to room, exploring the once familiar terrain that now felt foreign. But then, I saw my bed. This comfy piece of familiarity was a roundtrip ticket to anywhere I wanted to go. Here, I could dream of visiting other countries, hunting for new toys. I could even go back in time, and relive the unbelievable haul of toys I collected in Japan.

But best of all, I could lay down and finally get some sleep.



  1. I dreaded this post, knowing it would be the end of a fun ride. But, I must admit... it was my favorite. Metallic red turtles, My Pet Monster stickers, french turtles, and strange bulbous-headed balloons at Japanese baseball games.... what an ending. I demand you go on more trips, simply to keep me entertained for another week.

    Awesome - bravo sir. And Domo Arigato.

  2. This was a great series of posts. I felt like I was right there with you. It looks like you came back with some great souvenirs too.

    1. Thanks dude! The souvenirs make me a happy traveler. Now, I need to carve out space in The Sewer Den for my international collection!

  3. The conclusion of an awesome trip. Congrats bud.

  4. Wow!I love toys and baseball so this post was a win,win for me!That tiny Donatello is so awesome!And I've always admired Japan's respect for the game of baseball.Some real good players come out of there,too.

  5. I've been tempted to order those Vending toys, they look so great, and love the My Pet Montster sticker randomly in the mix. All in all looks like you had a very fruitful trip and got some great items to stock the shelves of the Den with.

  6. A French Turtle in Japan is kinda like an American Werewolf in London. Mutants get around!


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