(I) Welcome to the COSMOS

Have you seen a COSMOS コスモス vending machine? There were once 100,000 COSMOS machines in Japan; now there are just 60-odd throughout the country, like this one outside a toy store in Nikko (map):

Old toy store in Nikko, Japan, and COSMOS vending machine.
Old toy store in Nikko, Japan, and COSMOS vending machine.

Started in 1977, the COSMOS company found success making capsule toys カプセルトイ, those cheap toys in plastic capsules sold in vending machines. Capsule toys are still popular, but the COSMOS company has all but disappeared. The company went bankrupt in 1988, though some small subsidiaries remain.

(II) The “Lotchi incident” ロッチ騒動

In the 1980s the confectionery company Lotte ロッテ produced a product that came with collectible stickers called Bikkuriman ビックリマン. These stickers were so popular that they spawned their own manga and anime. As Wikipedia explains:

“Super Bikkuriman was a waffle peanut and chocolate snack made by Lotte…it came with one randomly assorted Bikkuriman bonus sticker…The stickers were divided into sets called “Dan”. Within each “Dan” there was one ultra rare “Head” which was often sparkly with prism or holographic type designs. Among the kids, some of these sold for 1000 yen (roughly $10 USA) or more, the highest being 5000 yen…Even knock-offs of the stickers were made; the most famous was called Dokkiriman.

…These collectible stickers became such a huge hit, and it was the first proper and massive collectible item for kids done in Japan that had rare and common value system…Soon after came the rise of collectible cards. SD Gundam and Dragon Ball were the first to jump on this bandwagon and eventually give rise to mega-successful CCG (Collectible Card Games) such as Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh, but it all began with Bikkuriman.”

The COSMOS sought to capitalize on the success of the Lotte stickers, and started selling near-identical knock-offs. The real Lotte product was called 「ビックリマンシール」 “Bikkuriman seal”. The fake product was called 「ドッキリマンシール」 “Dokkiriman seal”. The following blog (ロッチのシール ‘Lotchi seal’) has nice examples which I’ve combined:

real-lotte-vs-fake-cosmos-lotchi-sticker

Other than minor differences in color, the only way to disceren between real and fake products was to look closely at the back of the stickers. The real stickers were labelled 「ロッテ “Lotte”, whereas the fake stickers were labelled 「ロッチ」 “Lotchi”. The only difference is that Lotte is spelled with the katakana テ (the “te” sound), and Lotchi is spelled with the katakana チ (the “chi” sound). A comparison of the back of the stickets can be seen here (source):

The fake product was a big hit, selling 10 million units and earning 350 million yen for the COSMOS company. Controversy soon followed. Because the Lotte stickers were valuable, unscrupulous people would pass-off fake COSMOS as genuine Lotte stickers. Consumers were angered, and a lawsuit was filed in 1987; by 1988 the COSMOS company went bankrupt .

An additional point of interest: not only do 「ロッテ」 and 「ロッチ」 look alike, but they can be made to look even more similar. One blog mentions that people would scratch-off a portion of the letter チ to make it look more like テ, which I’ve illustrated:

chi-to-te-katakana-cosmos-lotchi-incident

References:

Lotchi incident/uproar:

COSMOS:

Lotte stickers:

Other images of capsule vending machines:

Glossary:

  • カプセルトイ = capsule toy
  • ガシャポン gashapon or ガチャポン gachapon = a variety of capsule toy
  • ガチャ gacha = short form of the above
  • ロッテ = Lotte candy company (the last katakana is テ, which makes the sound “te”)
  • ロッチ = Lotchi (the last katakana is チ, which makes the sound “chi”)
  • 「ニセモノ」 nisemono = fake
  • 「インチキ」 inchiki = a trick, phony, fake
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