I’m in a hall for conventions on a hot Hong Kong summer day. Children have been waiting for hours on end to meet their most loved Japanese artists. Although you might think this kind of reception for sports stars or musicians but they’re actually eager to purchase toys or obtain signatures from a number of Japanese creators, who outside of the modern world, most people wouldn’t have known about. In this age of internet-based communication, in which everything is easily accessible without much of a challenge There are only few things — like the famously designed sneakersthat are in demand people will queue endlessly. It’s the norm for sofubi -it is a limited-edition art piece, produced in small batches by skilled artisans who make each one by hand.
The term sofubi is an amalgamation of “soft” or” vinyl” and refers to figures that are made from PVC. They are quite tough, in spite of their malleable look that suggest they’re soft. They usually reference Japanese designs like kaiju monsters and traditional folkloric images, but are rendered with colors that are psychedelic and wild, with glitter, gradations and tones that range from vivid fluorescent shades towards soft pastels.
Domestically, they’re made by craftspeople, many of whom are veterans of their trade. This increases their status and appeal. Teresa Chiba, a popular sofubi artist, whose designs typically draw inspiration from traditional Japanese traditional toys such as inuhariko and akabeko, declares that the main difference between mass-produced gacha gacha (capsule) toys and hand-crafted sofubi is the fact that the former is a manufactured product, whereas Sofubi UK are more like handcrafted work. Chiba says that the aesthetics are identical to traditional folk toys in that they exhibit some roundness and they have a “looseness where you can see that they were created by a human.”
Sofubi are made of PVC which is polyvinyl chloride, the substance that was invented in Germany in 1872. Then, it was plasticized by blending the various components in 1926. The traditional method of production which is standard in Japan utilizes a wax prototype that melts when making the mold from metal. Each step is completed by hand. Experienced artisans apply their skills to spread the materials across the mold’s crevices, enabling the final piece to have gorgeous detail as well as the appearance of a hollow, lightweight body.
As sofubi become more popularly produced in China ManabuTakeo, a sofubi producer and manager of several famous artists, affirms that Japanese creators only work with local craftsmen. He explains “The process of making sofubi in Japan is completely different. In China they place all the material into a black box and out of the hole, they are released in a matter of seconds. Here, artisans make each one one at a time and are able to create gorgeous clear sofubi by using that method.”
Aren’t there Toys suitable for Kids?
Sofubi’s appeal to collectors is diverse. In the first place, they display subversive, subcultural appeal. In comparison to characters used in commercial promotions or toys for children they are the mascots of Japan’s underground. Hideyuki Katsumata works as an artist from Osaka who creates character-driven work typified by strong lines and vibrant colors. While he was initially inspired by art of the lowbrow like graffiti creators Barry McGee and Osgemeos, there are motifs from the folk toy world like kokeshi, and shunga (erotic print made of wood) in his work. Sofubi has been made by him for around 10 years; the most recent edition features a giant phallus on its head.
In the same way, Izumonster’s models sport an erotic gritty look. He is among the most prolific artists of sofubi in the scene with a large studio in Nagoya where he does the design, prototyping as well as spray-painting, Izumonster garnered the initial clients base of a tattoo artist and currently also works at Nagoya’s 8 Ball tattoo shop. His tattoos and sofubi use vivid colors, with motifs such as monsters, kaiju, bizarre-looking space creatures, as well as naked naked characters with full body irezumi ink. Two of his characters are designed by resembling male and female genitals in bright colors.
Although Katsumata insists while laughing that his art school education isn’t his primary education, so his work is naturally “low brow” without consciously trying, for the consumers, this accessibility is an important aspect of what makes his work appealing. Chiba adds, “Things like high culture and fashion are great, but only for a select segment of people. When you reach a certain amount of money, it is difficult to find it. That’s what I like about kabuki too, it is subcultural, a form of entertainment similar to TV, unlike Noh.”
Social Media Connections
A large portion of the sofubi fandom is the connections to social media. A lot of fans utilize their platforms to flaunt their toys. Izumonster informs me that the two are inextricably connected. “Social media is very important in the toy world. If it wasn’t for Instagram it wouldn’t be able to spread like this.” He goes on to say, “Collectors love to show their pictures on their Instagram feedsand they even take them out and take photos with them. If you’re looking for information on how to buy them, you should follow the accounts of everyone because that’s where you will find information on when they are being sold.”
A different aspect that is prominent in contemporary sofubi culture is the huge female fanbase, which has moved into an previously untapped demographic of consumers. The most popular sofubi artists in the present era is the artist Konatsu. Konatsu enjoys 67,000 subscribers on her primary Instagram account, and her adorable kaiju toys — one of them is a cat monster known as Negora — appeals to not only the traditional fandom of designer toys, which can be described as up until now male geeks, but also a large group of women. Her fame, as well as other female artists who emerged at the same period of time, such as Chiba as well as Kaori Hinata, has created the emergence of a predominantly female-focused clientele, the majority of whom were drawn to dolls. it’s not unusual to see as many females as males at conventions.
The Soft Vinyl Legacy
Sofubi are in fashion currently however they have a long background and became popular in the years following World War II. The majority of sofubi were solely manufactured for shipping to US. Kaiju’s rise made soft-bodied toys explode in popularity in the 1960s. This was followed by other trends, such as robots, superheroes and characters. Takeo at 58 years old, belongs to the generation that grew up playing with Ultraman as well as Godzilla as well as his love of sofubi is motivated by nostalgia. Takeo says “Up to junior high school, my friends purchased these toys and were playing with them, I forgot about them when I was in high school, but once I was an adult, people in the same age started to produce sofubi during the 80s with sensibilities , and I was reminded about my childhood.”
The boom in designer sofubi started in the 90s instigated by street fashion brands for men which were focused on Ura-Harajuku. Brands such as Bounty Hunter sold astronomical amounts of toys, and introduced new value to these toys, where trendsetters made them into products that were a part of the lifestyle. They were influenced by street fashion and sneakers, aimed at adults. Takeo also noticed this street culture trend, and felt that this style had a lot of potential. He began producing these with female indie artists.
Many other current makers like Katsumata who first started making sofubi 10 years ago remember this boom. “When the 20s were when, sofubi began to gain popularity again and [fashion brand] Beams was creating Ultraman and Kaiju remakes,” the creator says “I saw them around this period, however it was a lot more hot back in the day, more so than today. At the time I was in, designer sofubi got trendy, which I realized if you aren’t a large maker, you could make small batches. I think as a design and decorative art The quality of the item itself is superior.”
One thing that the world of sofubi has in common with other essentials for street culture, such as T-shirts and sneakers, such as the ones made by Supreme, is that release dates are typically limited. This makes them less accessible and adds to their appeal. Makers are experts in comprehending consumer behavior as well as the market. Chiba says that in the past , independent sofubi makers were usually people who just did it for the sake of it and could have made them for sentimental reasons only, she belongs to the generation who “wants to make art and make money as well.”
Manabu Explains, “With collectors, if they can purchase them from anywhere, they don’t want it any more. They want things that are difficult to obtain, which is why we have to control the things that are put into the market. But it can’t be too many. If it is too hard to get, they can’t buy them and for them that is boring too. There are also resellers who offer them for sale online at times for 10-fold the price, and others who purchase the items for investment purposes. However they can add value to the item too in a way. Instead of selling for one or two years in a whirlwind we want endurance and to regulate the market like that.”
He acknowledges that this approach can drive certain consumers completely insane “Fans are very enthusiastic and excited, we are a bit worried. They could get angry when they aren’t getting what they want . They could take to the streets and threaten us. People who buy stationery don’t behave like this!”
It might not be overly dramatic to suggest that the fervor is somewhat religious.
Chiba declares, “The cultural background in Japan is a major influence on this culture because of animism. We are taught to believe that many things have souls since at a young age. Every thing has a god, therefore, I believe it’s a place where it’s easy to birth characters.”
Katsumata says “Japan is a yaoyorozu [literally eight million gods, the Shinto belief that everything is gods] nation, and there is the notion that if one has face, there’s soul.”
It’s the end to the Expo to be held Hong Kong and punters are going home with their newly purchased pile of toys. While there is a lot that can be said about this trend in Japan It is evident that the idea of having fun with toys is prevalent across all cultures. Chiba is in agreement. “When I go to conventions across the world, everyone is doing exactly the same thing: they take their toys, we eat together, we take photos together and say, what a cute. Although it’s mostly adult children playing together with their toys that is what makes it fun!”
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