UWAJIMA, EHIME PREF. – A local business is trying to help Japan’s biggest pearl production center recover from mass oyster deaths with gacha gacha vending machines containing real pearls.
The efforts by pearl processor and wholesaler Uwakaishinju Co. in Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture, are beginning to pay off. Pearls sold in plastic capsules from the machines are proving to be popular.
“I wanted to liven up the industry by offering a cheerful topic,” said Uwakaishinju sales official Tomohide Mase, 54, who came up with the idea.
Gacha gacha machines usually dispense toys in capsules. Buyers do not know exactly what toy they have received until they open the capsule.
In exchange for two ¥500 coins, the Uwakaishinju version produces a capsule containing an accessory such as a bracelet, pair of earrings or necklace, each decorated with a pearl 6½ to 8½ millimeters in size.
The pearl gacha gacha machines have been placed at a Michi-no-Eki roadside rest area with shopping and dining facilities in Uwajima.
The company has received good feedback, as buyers can get a genuine pearl with milky white radiance at an affordable price.
Some 1,600 capsules were sold in the first 3½ months after the machines were installed on Oct. 5. Daily sales have reached as high as around 100 capsules.
The pearl vending machines sometimes dispense bonus capsules, colored silver, that contain two pearl accessories.
Ehime is Japan’s biggest producer of pearls and Akoya pearl oysters. Last summer, however, the prefecture started to see mass oyster deaths.
The number of young shellfish cultured in the prefecture stood at 11.18 million as of the end of September, down 70 percent from normal.
The cause of the deaths remains unknown. The prefectural government and other entities are investigating, suspecting lack of food, genetic deterioration and disease.
Production of young shellfish has been ramped up, but some warn of a possible drop in pearl production in 2021 or later despite the efforts.
Also behind the launch of the capsule machines was the decline of local shopping arcades.
Jewelry shops are closing one after another across the country, decreasing opportunities for consumers to buy pearls, according to Mase.
He hit on the idea of utilizing the areas in front of establishments such as stationery and toy shops, a usual place for gacha gacha machines.
Starting last month, pearl gacha gacha machines were placed in Tokyo for a limited time. Some 350 capsules were sold, Mase said.
He is considering placing such machines at roadside facilities in Uwajima’s sister cities.
“I hope (the initiative) sends a message that a local area is trying. I also want to disseminate the charm of Uwajima pearls outside the city,” said Hiroshi Matsuhiro, 40, manager of the roadside facility in Uwajima.