Look! The east is burning blue?!
When us Western folks think about figure scenes in the East, we tend to invariably end up thinking about two main places. The place where they all came from, Japan and probably the second-largest community in the area, Singapore and Malaysia.
Of course, Japan is a given, but with the additional landmass, it's not really a surprise to hear that some of the biggest figure and anime events in the region outside of Japan are usually held in Singapore, which provides Malaysian fans an easy to reach place to congregate (even if there are a ridiculous number or rules that need following). But what about the other countries? I guess it's asking much to try and take a peek at Indonesia and other countries since they don't have much of an international presence. China and South Korea have a large community but they are very insular and keep to themselves (have you tried navigating ruliweb, where many Korean modelers share their works??) But there are two regions where interest and influence is growing despite their small size and they are Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Taiwan is a place I have yet to visit but that could be subject to change eventually. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is a place which I have grown familiar with over time. So, ignoring the tourist stuff and other ways to entertain yourself in HK, what can you expect to see as a prospective figure buyer when in Hong Kong? Well, let's take a look!
Now, before I start, I thought I should throw out a few points for first timers if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong:
Now that we have gone through those little bits of info, lets get into the meat of things. Firstly, each main station on the MTR line is basically located in a somewhat self-contained area. When you leave the MTR station, you will usually find a large shopping centre with various shops for the everyday needs for the families living in the area. Checking out the toy shops will likely net you a large collection of the latest Gunpla (up to Master Grade), Super Robot Chogokin and S.I.C Kamen rider figures. They are popular titles which appeal to kids, so they are easy to find. Depending on the area, you may also find smaller stalls which are a little more specialised but those are rare. I used to know of a great small shop at the shopping centre near Kowloon Tong but it has been renovated recently, so the shop isn't there anymore. *sniff* I bought my PG Eva Unit 01 from there!
But if you want to get your hands on the bishoujo figures, the place which you will want to visit is Mong Kok. Mong Kok is an interesting place: an area where you can literally find anything if you know where to go, from bathroom sets to aquariums, and don't forget the night markets as well!
Figures get their own little area as well, in a section which seems to be trying very hard to be something akin to Akihabara. Sai Young Choi Street is a long road with a massive mix of various shops as well as buildings which specialise in various things like fashion, cameras and, yes, figures. It's often closed to traffic and you will often see public performances by various people seeking your attention. Heck, they even have maid cafes set up around there!!! How much more Akiba do you want?
Places like the CTMA Centre have many shops inside which sell various types of figures. Now, don't expect too much from each store because this his Hong Kong so each one is small. Really small!
But the other claim to fame which the CTMA Centre has is that it houses the official store of Hot Toys! Their store can be found on the 2nd floor of the CTMA building and is pretty big compared to other shops but the stock is also smaller. Hot Toys is also kind of a big deal over here. Popular pre-orders of their products can see the queue stretch down to the main road and beyond. And remember, this shop is on the 2nd floor!!
Because the stores are usually rather small, they tend to put some real effort into their front displays. There are some seriously impressive displays. Can you recognise ALL the Soul of Chogokin figures in this pic?
There are various places like the CTMA Centre around Mong Kok. The most infamous one is the SINO Centre on Nathan Road, one of the main roads of Hong Kong. Why is it infamous? Well, until recently, it was a hotbed of blatant and open illegal acts. There are 5 floors in the SINO Centre and 3 of them were filled with shops selling anime DVDs. Remember those cheap region 0 DVD series you used to be able to find flooded on eBay? Yup, floors of nothing but those! The remaining floors were home to places selling adult DVDs. I'm not kidding here! I could tell you a few funny stories from having to meander around those floors when I was younger, but I won't (and you had to go through them. The floors were leveled after each other so you had fake anime on one floor, then AV, then anime again ... and there were some pretty cool shops at the top which dealt in more authentic items, usually old idol stuff.)
These days, the floors are a lot cleaner since the government did a massive crackdown a few years back, but some of the old shops still remain, and at least one AV shop might still haunt the floors! Mostly, though, it's a good, easy to find single stop for some figures, video games and music CDs.
Now, here comes the more interesting stuff!! If you walk away from the CTMA Centre, past the hospital (which is in plain view from the centre so no worries there), you'll eventually reach a place called Paradise Square. Pretty aptly named for certain hobbyists. But just beyond there is a corner with a rather eclectic selection of hobby shops. There are stores like the Model Car Expo, which sells nothing but model cars, some die cast and some plastic kits you need to assemble!
I'm pretty sure that Misato's car was actually blue, but meh...
And right next door would be a shop which sells motors and various mod parts for remote controlled vehicles!
UML was a more standard model kit store with various gunpla and Idolm@ster fighter jets on sale.
Courtesy of Namco-Bandai and Ace Combat! You will often find that shops try to display complete sets of kits as opposed to a large number of the more popular ones, no doubt to appear to have an increased spread of items for sale.
UML were also pushing these Avengers kits quite heavily in their shops. You can actually buy them from online stores like Amiami (heck, I can buy them from my local model shop!) but it was a little surprising to hear that they are a Chinese product.
And finally, rounding up all these hobby shops are ones which specialise in war games and BB guns ...
Yup, they sell just BB guns!!
Enterbay also have their own store, which shows off some of their bigger products.
Of course, there is a slight dark side to proceedings. Some shops will be selling bootleg items and it can sometimes be hard to figure out which ones are real or fake. I saw an Ichiban Kuji Sheryl Nome Oiran figure on my travels and really wanted it but when I asked how much it was, I was quoted as around 300HKD. Which, at the time of writing is about $39 ... For a super rare, premium Ichiban Kuji figure... What do you think? Heck, the Ichiban Kuji figure I did buy had a cost which was over 3X that! (definitely not fake but not as desirable either!)
Then, of course, there are the ones which don't even try to hide the fact that they are fake. You can usually find these in small shops around the shopping centres!
Still, even if they are fake, there are some seriously impressive ones out there which could tempt you!
Don't you think?
Now, for the most part, if you're in town you should be able to get most of the new releases if your visit coincides with the day of release for the figure. The shops tend to get a lot in as well, so they shouldn't be too hard to find. On my last day, I saw lots of the AGP GP03 girl in shops. The only reason I didn't grab one was because I had a pre-order with Amiami from way back so I already had one waiting.
But, if you're in town for a while and there's a figure you absolutely must get, you can put a pre-order with one of the shops. Many of them will have little cutouts of what figures will be available soon and will give them a price as shown above. You can ask them to reserve one for you and pay a small standing charge which you will lose if you don't get the figure but it's a simple way of pre-ordering something you really want!
In terms of events, the community is still rather small and impromptu meetups are not hard to organise, if you have connections there already. There have also been three CharaHobby events in Hong Kong in recent years, held mostly in spring as well as some Gundam-specific events but these tend to be more of a place for fans to gather and to view some newer items compared to the larger "home" events where there would be event exclusive items and dealers selling their own works. They do get some pretty cool special guests in though!
Unfortunately, events like those aren't scheduled to regularly occur and are only announced a few months in advance (since Hong Kong is so tiny, it won't take long for word to travel, especially as many who will be interested will congregate in places like Mong Kok) so it may be difficult to plan a trip with the intent to go to one of these events. It's more like go if your trip coincides with the event.
Still, if it's your first time in Hong Kong, there are plenty of tourist stuff to keep you occupied and the figure collecting part is just a tiny piece of it. For people like myself, who have regularly returned to Hong Kong since before I was able to walk, some careful time management will probably mean that I would be able to do most things in a few days, leaving the rest of my time to other things but others may want to take their time a little bit. Nevertheless, there is a vibrant figure community in Hong Kong and a really friendly one as well, but you might just need someone to invite you in first ...
And, of course, there are the electronics and video games as well! Just remember that there's a strict weight limit when travelling by air, so do try to restrain yourself when you pay a visit to the special administrative region of Hong Kong. Shipping ain't cheap, I can tell you that (unless you send it by surface and am happy with not seeing your purchases again for several months), but it's hard with all the little gems you are likely to find with just a bit of digging! Just be sure to plan ahead as, rather unsurprisingly, it's easy to be overwhelmed with desire in a place where the main hobby of its inhabitants is shopping!
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