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A Guide To Sofubi

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I’m at a convention center on a hot Hong Kong summer day. Children have been waiting for hours around the block to meet their most loved Japanese artists. Although you would expect such a reception from musicians or sports stars, they are in fact eager to purchase toys or get signatures from a number of Japanese creators who outside of the world, most people wouldn’t have heard of. In the age of the internet, which is where everything is available without much of a challenge it is only a few items — such as celebrity-designed sneakers -which are in such high demand that people queue for hours. This is however the norm for sofubi -which is a kind of limited-edition art object, made in small batches by skilled craftsmen who make each one individually.

Sofubi 101

The term sofubi is an amalgamation of “soft” or” vinyl” and refers to figures that are made from PVC. In the hands, they are extremely tough, despite their malleable appearance which implies they’re almost squishy. They often reference Japanese motifs such as monsters from kaiju and traditional folklore images, but are rendered with colours that are wild and psychedelic, featuring glitter inlays, gradations and tones that range from intense fluorescent shades as well as soft pastels.

Domestically, they are created by craftsmen, a majority of whom have a long history in their field. This boosts their esteem and appeal. Teresa Chiba, a popular sofubi artist, whose designs are usually based on traditional Japanese folk toys , such as inuhariko and Akabeko, notes that the distinction between things like mass-produced gacha gacha (capsule) toys and handmade sofubi is the fact that the former is a product, whereas sofubi are more akin to hand-crafted work. She notes that the aesthetics of sofubi are also similar to folk-style toys in that they possess some roundness and they have a “looseness that allows you to see that a human made them.”

Sofubi are made from PVC or polyvinyl chloride which was first synthesized within Germany in 1872. Later, it was made into a plastic by mixing the various components in 1926. The traditional manufacturing process that is common in Japan makes use of a wax model that melts in the making of an aluminum mold. Each step is done by hand. Experienced artisans use their skill to spread the metal across the mold’s crevices. This permits the final product to exhibit gorgeous detail as well as a hollow, light body.

While sofubi are increasingly mass-produced in China Manabu Takeo, an sofubi maker and manager of many popular artists claims that Japanese creators only employ local craftsmen. He explains “The way they make the sofubi outside of China is different. In China they pack all the material into a black box and through the hole, they are released by themselves. This is where artisans craft each one one at a time and they are able to make gorgeous, clear sofubi using this method.”

Aren’t there Toys meant for Kids?

The appeal of sofubi for collectors is diverse. In the first place, they display subversive, subcultural appeal. When compared to characters that are commonly used in commercial promotions or children’s toys they are the mascots of Japan’s underground. Hideyuki Katsumata is an artist from Osaka who creates characters-driven art typified by striking lines and vibrant colors. Though he was initially inspired by lowbrow art such as graffiti creators Barry McGee and Osgemeos, there are motifs from the folk toy world like kokeshi as well as Shunga (erotic wooden prints) in his work. Sofubi has been made by him for around 10 years; the latest of which features huge phallus-like features on its head.

In the same way, Izumonster’s characters have an erotic style that’s grotesque. While he is one of the most prolific sofubi artists on the field, with a vast studio in Nagoya where he performs the designing, prototyping along with spray paint, he also gained the initial clients base of an artist who tattoos and also works in Nagoya’s Eight Ball tattoo shop. Both his tattoos and sofubi are adorned with vivid colors, with motifs such as the aforementioned monsters, kaiju, bizarre space creatures, and naked and explicit figures that are dipped in full body ink called irezumi. Some of the characters are created in the likeness of male and female genitals in bright colors.

Although Katsumata insists there is no art school training , which means his work is natural “low and rudimentary” without him explicitly attempting for it. For the consumer, this accessibility is part of the appeal. Chiba adds, “Things like high culture and fashion are great, but only for a select group of people. When you reach a certain amount of money, there is no way to access it. This is the reason I like kabuki too, it is subcultural, an alternative to entertainment that is similar to TV in contrast to Noh.”

Social Media Connections

Another large part of Sofubi UK fandom is the connection to social media. Many of these fans use their social media platforms to showcase their goods. Izumonster claims that the two go hand in hand. “Social media is really important in the toy world. If it wasn’t for Instagram it wouldn’t have been able to grow in this way.” He says, “Collectors love to show their pictures on their Instagram feedsThey take them outside and snap photos of them. If you’re looking for information on how to buy the items, be sure to follow all accounts as this is where you’ll find details about when they will be sold.”

Another notable aspect of the current sofubi culture is its massive female fan base, which has swooped in on an previously untapped demographic of consumers. The most loved sofubi artists in the moment has been artist Konatsu. Konatsu enjoys 67,000 subscribers on her primary Instagram account and her cute Kaiju toys — one of the most well-known of which is a cat-based monster known as Negora is a hit with not just the typical designer toy crowd, which can be described as at present male geeks as well as a significant number of females. Her popularity, and that of other women artists that gained prominence at the same period of time, such as Chiba as well as Kaori Hinata, has fostered the emergence of a predominantly female-focused clientele, most of whom were initially drawn to dolls. it’s not unusual to see as many women than men at events.

The Soft Vinyl Legacy

Sofubi are in fashion currently but they have a lengthy background and became popular post World War II. Many of these sofubi were solely manufactured for shipment to US. Kaiju’s rise made soft-bodied toys explode in popularity in the 1960s. They were followed by other trends including robots, superheroes and characters. Takeo, at 58 years old, belongs to the generation that grew up with Ultraman as well as Godzilla as well as his love of sofubi is driven by nostalgia. Takeo says “Up to junior high school, my classmates purchased these toys and were playing with them, I forgot about them during high school, but as I was an adult, people of the same age began to make sofubi in the 80s , with the same sensibilities and made me think to my early days.”

A boom in sofubi fashion started in the late 90s, and was spurred by men’s street fashion brands focused around Ura Harajuku. Brands such as Bounty Hunter sold astronomical amounts of toys. They also introduced new value to these toys that were redesigned by fashionistas into products that were a part of the lifestyle. They were influenced by street style and sneakers targeted at adults. Takeo was also aware of the popular culture as well and was convinced that the style had a lot of potential. He began to develop his own music with women artists.

There are other makers in the present, like Katsumata for instance, who started making sofubi around 10 years ago also remember this boom. “When it was my early 20s, sofubi was back in fashion and [fashion label] Beams was creating Ultraman and Kaiju remakes,” Katsumata says “I was aware of them at this time too but it was more popular back that time, much more than today. In my time, designer sofubi got trendy, as did I realize that in the absence of a huge maker, it is possible to make small lots. As a style and decorative piece of art, the quality of the item in itself is higher.”

Consumer Craze

The one thing that the sofubi market shares with street culture must-haves like T-shirts, sneakers and even T-shirts such as the ones produced by Supreme The reason is that their releases are generally limited. The fact that they are not readily available adds to their appeal. Makers are experts at knowing consumer behavior and market. Chiba states that earlier, independent sofubi creators were often those who were just doing it as a hobby and might have made them out of sentimental motives but hers is the generation that “wants to create art and make money too.”

Manabu describes, “With collectors, if you can buy them anywhere and they’re not interested in it anymore. They are looking for things that are difficult to come by, so we have to control what is put on the market. But it shouldn’t be overly many. If they are too difficult to obtain, people won’t purchase it, and that’s boring too. There are also resellers who sell them on the internet, sometimes for 10 times the price and some who buy their items to invest in these resellers add value to the item as well in a way. Instead of selling for two or three years in a whirlwind We are seeking durability and to manage the market like that.”

He admits this strategy makes some customers absolutely insane “Fans are truly excited and energized, we are a bit scared. They could get angry when they aren’t getting what they want and might go off and attack us. Stationery buyers don’t behave like this!”

It might not be too much to say that the fervor is somewhat religious.

Chiba says, “The cultural background in Japan contributes to this particular culture due to animism. We are taught to believe that many things have souls since at a young age. Every thing has a god, and I would say it’s a country where it is easy to make characters.”

Katsumata says “Japan is considered to be a yaoyorozu [literally eight million gods, the Shinto idea that everything has a gods] country, so there is the belief that if there is a face, there is soul.”

It’s almost the end of Expo to be held Hong Kong and punters are leaving with their newly acquired haul. While there is a lot that can be said about this trend in Japan, it is obvious that the idea of having fun with toys is prevalent across different cultures. Chiba is in agreement. “When I go to conventions across the world, everyone is doing the same thing: they take their toys, we have dinner together, take pictures together and comment on how cute. While it’s basically kids playing, it is an enjoyable experience!”