May 24, 2005
Trip Report: Spanky (Nagoya, Japan)
L to R: Ken Joho and I
During my recent vacation to Japan, I traveled across city lines from Kyoto to Nagoya to visit the Spanky toy store. The owner, Ken Joho, kindly picked me up from the train station after my failed attempts to locate the store. Ken, a man in his mid thirties wore a pair of square “vintage” black spectacles, a purple Spanky t-shirt and pin striped loose pants. He guided me through alleys of stores lining an indoor arcade mall. He pointed out the former location for Spanky, which now serves as storage. He mentioned the expansion of the store and thus the store’s name, Spanky, “to expand”. Ken is also the owner of Headlock Studios which has produced several key vinyl figures such as Ray the Aersol can, and Touma's Snouts and Talons. After a short stroll, we reached the main Spanky store. A 4 feet tall big boy figure along with a few capsule toys machines stood before the entrance. Once inside, toys of all sorts laid before me. A quick scan of his inventory discloses the usual suspects such as Disney toys, Star Wars, The Simpsons. However, upon closer look I found a glass case of hard to find designer vinyl toys, such as the White Talon and Yellow Snout by Touma. A few Dalek 8” Qees also stood on the top shelves along with a handful of humanoid figures by Eric So and Michael Lau which were neatly hidden behind a selection of Scary Girl figures.
Spanky #1 in Nagoya, JapanI was invited into Ken’s office and we quickly started talking about toy collecting. Ken, a huge Spider-man fan, started Spanky as a result of his first trip to the United States ten year ago, during which he spent a great deal of his visit shopping at flea markets and swap meets sweeping up everything and anything featuring the comic book superhero. When he returned home, he set up shop to sell his large haul of toys. From only a space no bigger than a typical kitchen, Ken’s business grew slowly and steady. Interestingly, Spanky’s creation is quite similar to the way in which Paul Budnitz started a small business selling toys from Hong Kong which would later become Kidrobot. Today, Spanky consists of a main store which carries designer toys and a second store which mainly carries Japanese toys. Spanky also has an online store taking orders from all over the world. As his website might be challenging to navigate for non-Japanese, it is most likely easier to write Ken via email with your orders.
Ken is a big fan of Frank Kozik and Gary Baseman. However, he said it is difficult to sell their toys because they are relatively unknown in Japan. His most popular toy turns out to be the Bearbricks, which sells out within days of release. Ken is also working with FunKo developing Spanky’s very own toy. You may have seen an animated version of it on Spanky's web page. The sample he showed me was black and gray and stood about 6’inches tall. Since details are still shrouded in secrecy, I don’t have a picture to share.
WarehouseAfter a short break, Ken took me to see part of his toy collection at the warehouse, but not before he showed me his newest purchase from Ebay. While I expected a toy, Ken pulled a shoe box from under the table. In it was a pair of limited release anniversary tennis shoes -- Ken’s shoe collection turned out to be much bigger than his toy collection. I can’t say I am surprised, since the man is a person of style, as I’m sure you can see from his photo?
At the warehouse, Ken showed off signed toys including Tim Biskup’s Helper, Frank Kozik’s Bone Labbit and Touma’s Hellhounds. He was also eager to show me the rare silver Snout by Touma which I quickly offered to buy from him. He gracefully ignored my request and swiftly wrapped the precious toy away. Upon our return to his store, I picked up a couple of talons, a couple of green Spanky snouts and a Treedweller, not to mention my last attempt to convince him to sell me the silver snout. No luck.
Inside View As a gracious host, the evening ended with dinner with Ken where the conversation turned personal. He talked about his wife sending him 2 photos of his cat daily, his first child due this October, his golf habit, love for antique watches, his adventures in Las Vegas and finally his desire to slow things down. He then brought me back to the train station in his antique Volvo that died whenever it idled for more than a minute. He apologized about the car’s flaws which didn’t bother me much, for it saved me from waddling to the train station with 2 bags full of merchandise. I am a happy camper. If you find yourself near Nagoya, Japan be sure to check out Spanky for some designer vinyl shopping.
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the store is so amazing! i don't know how you tore yourself away...
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