April 22, 2021

Soapbox: How One Large Vegetable Highlights The Issue With Japan-Only Merch


While perusing news on the upcoming release of Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town – a game I am reviewing, and a series I love – I stumbled upon something special: a limited edition turnip plushie, available only in Japan.

I... love the big turnip...I... love the big turnip...
I… love the big turnip…

And, you see, the thing is, I want the Big Turnip. But more than just that – I want what Japan has. It seems like at least once a week, I find myself writing a news piece about some cool new thing available only in Japan – Pokémon themed manhole covers, Mario sandwiches, and, of course, the entirety of Super Nintendo World. This Turnip, the squishiness of which I will never know, remains locked away by oceans, and the lack of money in my bank account. Also, the pandemic, I guess.

The Large Neep is one of Japan’s many treats to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Bokujo Monogatari series – that’s Story of Seasons, in English – and can be won as a prize at various arcades across the country. It coincides with the latest release of a BokuMono game: Pioneers of Olive Town, which, according to Famitsu (h/t Fogu) has sold just 236,000 copies in its first two weeks on the market.

Third-party merch makers like Fangamer are doing great work
Third-party merch makers like Fangamer are doing great work (Image: Fangamer/ConcernedApe)

Such things are much less possible in the West, for a variety of reasons. The gaming landscape is much more dominated by home-grown releases, like Fortnite, Among Us, Fall Guys, Minecraft, and so on. People just aren’t making merch for Harvest Moon games, because who would buy it?

Sure, some people (like me) would – but the games just aren’t as popular in the West as they are in Japan, and we don’t have the same cultural landscape. Japan has arcades, gachapon machines, and generally a much better view of games – they’re much more in the mainstream than they are over here, even though the games industry is currently bigger than Hollywood and North American sports combined.

A selection of Nintendo's American online store...
A selection of Nintendo’s American online store… (Image: Nintendo America)
...versus a selection from Nintendo's Japanese online store
…versus a selection from Nintendo’s Japanese online store (Image: Nintendo Japan)

I’ve been to Comic-Con and PAX, and spent an unfortunate amount of money on Stardew Valley pin badges and posters (this one, in particular), which were all beautiful and well-made, but I want BIG TURNIP, too. I want to be able to show my love for the smaller Japanese-made games that people in Europe and North America love, like Ace Attorney and BokuMono, with the same love and care that they get over there.

Me, my girlfriend, and her $500, four-foot-tall Neep
Me, my girlfriend, and her $500, four-foot-tall Neep (Image: Marvelous)

Anything with a Nintendo stamp on it, from Mario and Zelda to Pokémon and Animal Crossing, makes it over (although Japan still gets better My Nintendo rewards, and that fluffy Gelato Pique line of Nook-themed loungewear is Japan-only, too), but it would be wonderful to have some appreciation for the third-party stuff that’s been bolstering Nintendo’s roster of games for a long time.

Did I just write several hundred words because I want a three-foot squishy vegetable in my house? Yes. I want to be like that meme about the girl with the $500 dollar, four-foot-tall Mareep, and I’m sure my partner would feel similarly to the chap in the photo. But, as awful as it is to be that Nintendo fan that complains that they can’t buy more toys… I would love to be able to buy more toys.

The ones that make it to Canada (where I currently live) are either super-boring, basic plushes, or they’re off-model ones sold in local Japanese import shops that look like Pikachu’s being haunted by a Victorian orphan ghost. I know I shouldn’t be spending money on, you know, Pokémon tat, but the thing is, I mostly don’t. The merch we get over here – at least the official stuff – just doesn’t do it for me.

On the left, a Zelda hoodie from the America store. On the right, a Zelda sweatshirt from the Japan store - with unique art, and no logo
On the left, a Zelda hoodie from the America store. On the right, a Zelda sweatshirt from the Japan store – with unique art, and no logo (Image: Nintendo of Japan/America)
Just look at this lovely teapot!
Just look at this lovely teapot!

The high-quality, sometimes weird stuff that Japan gets – Pokémon miniatures, Kirby lip balm, and this pleasingly plump Snom plush that I found while researching this article (I made a noise of anguish so loud that my partner came in to make sure I was okay) – that’s the stuff that would bankrupt me. And yes, I can import it, but I’m not made of money – I’m made of flesh, bones, and an undying love for large, squishy things.

We cover Japan-only stuff a lot on here, because it’s always pretty cool to look at. If we ever make it over to the country that gave us this website’s namesake, then you can bet we’ll be heading to the Kirby Café, and emptying our wallets in Akihabara, because we’re just terrible video game nerds. We’re glad that Japan gets such well-made, lovely stuff. But it’s a sign that video games just aren’t quite as embedded in mainstream culture over here, and that’s not likely to change soon.

Until then, there’s always Sugoi Mart. I can go without groceries for a year, right?


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