Bearbrick founder Tatsuhiko Akashi takes his creation on a global tour

Bearbrick World Wide Tour 3 recently made its second stop in Hong Kong at Artelli. Creator of the most recognisable plastic bear on Earth, Tatsuhiko Akashi is in town and tells Zaneta Cheng how it all started and where it’s going

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and no better could this axiom be applied than to one of this generation’s most famous and recognisable collector’s items – the Bearbrick. Created by Tatsuhiko Akashi, CEO and founder of Medicom Toy, the figure originated from Akashi’s need to meet delivery deadlines set by movie companies and advertising agencies.

“The Kubrick [block-style human-shaped figure] is a product with a considerably simple production process compared to other figures, but it was still difficult to meet the deadlines. To solve the issue, I came up with the idea of creating an iconic shape as a canvas, with different colours and texture applied to the exterior layer,” Akashi says. “At first I struggled with the shape of the canvas but later I came across an article in a newspaper about the 100th anniversary of the teddy bear. This inspired me to create a digital teddy bear to represent the 21st century and thus the Bearbrick was born.”

That was in 2001. Fast-forward to 2023 and Bearbrick is on a world tour. Officially called Bearbrick World Wide Tour 3, the exhibition features versions of the anthropomorphic bear designed by 100 creators from across the globe to celebrate the toy’s 20th anniversary. Its first stop was at home in Tokyo in December 2021. Post-pandemic, the exhibition makes its second stop in Hong Kong, hosted with Fashion Forward at its new art space Artelli, where I find Akashi signing figures for an enthusiastic fanbase.

Were you always interested in toys? What made you decide to establish Medicom Toy in 1996?

Similar to my peers, as a child, I had Ultraman, Kamen Rider and GI Joe figures to play with, which were very common for boys. The year I joined an IT company, a friend of mine introduced me to a shop that imported American toys in Shibuya and spending time there made me very happy. It was there that I became fascinated by this new world of toys, and where I realised that a toy culture amongst adults existed where we could buy and collect toys.

What toys did you buy during this period when you were working a desk job and enjoying toys as a hobby?

At that time, figures from movies like The Terminator and Batman were very popular so I began to buy and collect those. While my salary then was a bit higher than other office workers of my age, I would work so much that I didn’t have much time to spend it. That is, until I fell in love with collectible toys and started spending so much money on them. I remember one day I used up all the money I had in my wallet and didn’t even have enough money for train fare so I had to walk home!

At what point did you decide to leave your job in computer manufacturing and open your own toy shop in Ebisu? And what did you learn about the market for toys at that time that helped you develop your own business?

I developed such a passion for toys that it wasn’t enough for me to just collect them, so with the permission of my supervisor, I started this small store called Flip Flop in Ebisu. Even though it was a side hustle, and I still had my IT desk job, I gained a lot from that experience. Some of the people I met through Flip Flop are still working with me at Medicom Toy!

At my desk job, I learned a lot in terms of system design. I learned about the importance of combining different perspectives and presenting them in more understandable ways. In terms of music development, I learned more about the basics of licensing.

When did you see potential in the Bearbrick and decide to continue developing it for different
festivals and collaborations?

I saw potential in the Bearbrick ever since its debut at the World Character Convention 12 in 2001. It was originally a gift for visitors who made purchases at our booth. Despite the fact that there was no advance notice, many customers came to see Bearbrick on the day of the event. Products usually gain public recognition through various promotions but Bearbrick has managed to attract public attention since its debut, which is quite rare.

The attention has blown up since then, especially from design enthusiasts. Do you ever feel that the collectible art approach to toys these days eclipses their original intention?

In recent years, more and more people have been investing in art and enjoying the fun it brings. The reason why toys are gaining recognition as investment items is because people who are more financially stable have had experience playing with toys in their childhood. They’ve been able to perceive the essence of toys because they understand the value that toys brought to them in their childhood.

Today, the boundaries between different industries have been blurred and I think this will continue and perhaps create a new form of culture. On my end, I will continue to create products with the idea that if I want it, people all over the world will also want it.

What have been your most memorable Bearbricks?

My most memorable one was with Hiroto Kōmoto. When we came up with a proposal to develop Bearbrick as an event gift, he was the first one to say, “Let’s do it!” At that time, he was in a band called The High-Lows and they agreed to use Bearbrick as a gift for audience members who attended their concert. To be honest, before I submitted the proposal, I was expecting a rejection. But they actually accepted enthusiastically, which was really encouraging and very exciting for us.

You’ve worked with so many and Bearbrick is a global phenomenon. How did you choose whom to collaborate with for this exhibition?

For this exhibition, we’ve collaborated with around 100 top creators from various fields, genres, nationalities and generations. There are creators that we have collaborated with for years on commercial products as well as new creators that we’re working with for the first time. We’ve been very excited throughout this process to see what each Bearbrick with every creator will look like. I’m very happy that this event can bring together Bearbrick lovers from different fields.

Where will you look to take Medicom Toy in the future?

Our future will change depending on the talents, products and content that we encounter. So, instead of focusing on the long term, I’ll continue to make the best choices based on my own experience and judgement in each moment.

Also see: Bearbrick World Wide Tour 3 hits Hong Kong

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