Imported toy collectors are snapping up Japanese brand
Published: Mar 21, 2021 06:48 PM
A collection of Bearbricks in a toy store in Shanghai Photo: cnsphoto

A collection of Bearbricks in a toy store in Shanghai Photo: cnsphoto

Collecting imported toys, a hobby popular among some Chinese youngsters, has recently witnessed a new trend: snapping up Bearbrick, the Japanese cartoon-like toy bears, with prices jumping from a few thousand yuan per unit to as much as hundreds of thousands, which is partially driven by the logistic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The news that some youngsters are earning tens of thousands of yuan in profits by hyping the toy bear has gone viral online, even entering the hot search chart on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo over the weekend.

The toy bear, sold in six different sizes and made of wood, metal, plastic and other materials, was originally released in Japan by Japanese company Medicom Toy in August, 2001. It has become popular in China in recent years, thanks to promotions by some celebrities who are fans of the toy.

Jump in prices

The price of the toy has surged by 30-50 percent since 2020, with the most expensive edition selling for up to hundreds of thousands of yuan, collectors and vendors of the toy told the Global Times on Sunday. Because of its unprecedented price, many have dubbed it as the toy for the privilege of the rich.

A famous collector of the toys, who goes by pseudonym Pangpangxiong on Sina Weibo, confirmed the "crazy" price with the Global Times.

Some editions of the toy bears that originally sold at 10,000 yuan are now selling at 60,000 yuan, up fivefold, said Pangpangxiong.

"There are different series of the Bearbrick, and some series, such as My First Bearbrick Baby, are truly luxury," said Pangpangxiong, noting that the price hikes are caused by logistic hurdles between China and Japan during the pandemic.

Because of the virus, logistics in Japan have been halted, so if fans want to buy the bear, they can only buy through middlemen, and the prices naturally shot up, said another collector.

"This price hike is due to the pandemic...the Bearbrick became popular in China in November 2019, but its popularity only peaked following the pandemic outbreak between March and May 2020, with prices continuing to skyrocket," said Pangpangxiong.

Now, many people are starting to snap up the imported toy, not just because they like them, but also because they are expensive and difficult to buy, so some non-collectors have also started to buy the Bearbrick, expecting to sell it at a higher price and gain a profit, said the collector.

The bear, although fixed in shape, can be customized. Both its color and pattern can be personalized, and those that are well-painted by artists have brought added-value to the original model, industry insiders said.

New business

The soaring price has led some to believe that the true value of the imported toy is not just in its entertainment value, but also in its perceived value on the market.

A collector dubbed Tu Zi told the Global Times on Sunday that he initially started collecting Bearbrick toys due to their appearance.

As the price for Bearbrick gradually increased, he aimed to seize the opportunity by taking a more diverse approach and making a business out of it.

Since Tu Zi entered the market late, the most expensive Bearbrick toys he has sold have only been worth 30,000 to 40,000 yuan ($4,600-6,140), which he says is nothing in comparison with the ones sold for hundreds of thousands of yuan.

Tu Zi normally sells Bearbrick toys with a 50 percent markup on the original price seen in Japan.

While the price tag seems far beyond the actual price from the store in Japan, the true selling price is hard to define, according to Tu Zi, noting that the price range of Bearbrick toys varies wildly and the most popular series belong to special collaborations with the artists.

The Japanese toy has long been popular with Chinese celebrities. In a recent post by Taiwan-based singer and actress Rene Liu on Sina Weibo, she showcased her new Bearbrick toys to her fans, a move that has fueled the  popularity of the brand.

Tu Zi believes that the hype might not be caused by the pandemic, and the market price for popular styles may continue to rise.

"Bearbrick toys have become a new fashion trend, while a large number of celebrities featuring them might also be a major cause leading to the hype, which is similar to the sneaker hype seen in recent years," said Tu Zi.

However, for those toy fans who are not collectors, they are increasingly disgruntled by the surging price.

"It's good that people love them, but not hype them," said Pangpangxiong, noting that the high price will ultimately impact the life expectancy of the toys and create hurdles for other ordinary fans who do not have deep pockets. Hong Tao, director of the Institute of Business Economics at the Beijing Technology and Business University, told the Global Times that pursuing new fashion changes in consumption is an understandable characteristic for young people, as they are an active consumption group, but blindly chasing a trend should be avoided.

"Consumption guidance and management is necessary," said Hong, noting that people should try to avoid short-lived consumption trends in a bid to avoid abnormal consumption and wasting resources, said Hong.