On my recent trip to Japan, I was fortunate to have the time to visit Shintou Gangu [真頭玩具] in Aoto, Katsushika-ku. For the uninitiated, Shintou Gangu is the storefront for Katsura Mori's line of vinyl toys, Real x Head [リアルヘッド]. The shop opened its doors in early 2008, and serves as both a release location for new RxH and a veritable museum of past releases.
Owing perhaps to Katsura-san's daytime obligations, Shintou Gangu is open only from 6-9 pm on most weeknights (weekend hours may vary). It's about an hour roundtrip from central Tokyo, assuming that you do not get lost along the way. Aoto is a train stop on the Keisei local line; you will most likely transfer to Keisei from the JR system at Nippori station. Take the exit to your left when leaving the station and turn left at that exit, follow the tracks until you see a 7-11 down the street to your left. If you follow that street, you will eventually come to Shintou Gangu. Although undoubtedly quieter at night, the Aoto area is an area that would be aptly described with words like "charming" and "quaint"- it has the feeling of Tokyo, circa 20 years ago. I think we passed the local mom-and-pop butcher shop along the way to the store.
Shintou Gangu is not a large location, but it is spacious enough to be a welcome change from the claustrophobic shopping experiences of Nakano and Akihabara. There were two other guys (men in their 30s- OTAKU!) in the store when I arrived. We all did a dance around each other to check out the various things in the cases. You know the browsing dance if you have gone toy shopping in a Mandarake. To the left are the 'vintage' cases, with primarily old releases and prototypes. To the right are the items for sale and recently sold. For some unexplained reason, there is a small sink in the corner. It, too, is covered in toys.
The case of new stuff (mini case to the left as well). To my sadness, the mini Thunder Ragoon was already gone. But I did buy the slime green Hone Borg [モヒカン・ホネボーグ１号], which I really really wanted. Getto!
This neat clear, glittery Ghost Sider [ゴーストサイダー] was in the corner of a case. Ghost Sider is a collaboration between RxH and a friend. I wonder if this will pave the way for glittery RxH...
I should have paid more attention to the 'vintage' case, but I did see this new gold Bigaroid [モビル獣ビガロイド]. Tanomu, Katsura-san!
Still can't remember this lil' guy's name, but he sure is creepy. Maybe he'll be in the other corner when you turn the lights on in the morning.
And, yes... he did take the time to snap a photo with a fan. Someone call Kumon- their sign escaped again!
Shinto Gangu is a toy store, but there is so much more to that place than just things for sale. Perhaps it is the heady bouquet of vinyl fumes in the little glass box, but you leave with the distinct impression that this is a place where one man is making his dreams come true. There is no fashion tie-in or fine art aspiration in RxH. I think it was the Ninja Turtle and Star Wars toys piled on top of a case that really brought this home. These are simply toys- sure you might not give them to your kids at 3800 yen a pop, but there is no ultra-pricey, handpainted artsy stuff being handed down at Shintou Gangu. Nope. Just toys.
So I also bought one of these yellow-capped Mutant Heads [ミュータントヘッド]. These seem to be the ugly ducklings of recent releases, which may or may not be telling, now that the frenzy has died down. To be honest, I did not care for the recent RxH toys that used paint masking (as opposed to freehand sprays). I think you need to mentally remove them from the realm of 'traditional' new vinyl (oxymoron not intended) to enjoy what is going on here. Think of the toys that debuted in the late 80s and early 90s with outlandish colors and themes. Most times you will find these with the familiar price-slashed Kaybees tags still stuck to the cardback- evidence that they were ignored by all of us kids back then. But that has made them interesting collector's pieces, for better or worse.
Every great toy line goes through a period of renewal and transition. Transformers had neon-hued European exclusives and Gen 2, before finding a new footing in Armada. Likewise, Ninja Turtles had a few lesser known Metal and Super Turtle lines before it was reinvented in the early 2000s. Assuming that this is all still around 20, 30 years down the road, I think these releases will occupy a special place in collections because of their current unpopularity. But that is the cynical adult collector in me speaking. You should just enjoy the toys.
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