Toys of Yesterday: Tamagotchi


"Tamagotchi." The word alone conjures up memories of long hours training and cleaning up poop, over schools who were so pissed about these things distracting kids that they flat-out banned them, about even your mom having one, whether you liked it or not. It came from Japan and it took the U.S. and the world by storm.

But then again, I'm sure some of you were too young to really know or care about what Tamagotchi really was or where it came from. Or maybe you've never had one. Well, sit back, because you're about to get schooled on the history of one of the 1990s' biggest crazes.

Hit the jump and learn all about this virtual pioneer!

So how did this all come about? The answer lies in the relatively simple story of one Bandai employee. Aki Maita, who had joined the company in 1990, was looking for something she could carry around easily that would also compliment her busy lifestyle and small apartment. Dogs and cats don't exactly work for that, but out of it came the initial idea for a small digital pet, which eventually became Tamagotchi. And she didn't get a promotion, raise or bonus for her creation, which apparently according to a handful of interviews I've read, never really bothered her.

The world would be introduced to Aki Maita's idea in 1996, when Bandai dropped the Tamagotchi bomb on Japan. North America and the rest of the world were soon to follow, and before they knew it, Bandai had a full-blown craze on their hands. People couldn't stop getting their hands on the little digital toys, to the tune of 70 million units sold by 2008, and Tamagotchi spawned a whole series of imitators and other virtual pets inspired by it. That included both Bandai's own Digimon and Nintendo's Pokemon Pikachu, but both those are stories for another time. Heck, you could say Tamagotchi birthed the modern virtual pet toy genre, which is of course the reason it's so important.


The name Tamagotchi, for any Japanese student, should probably be pretty easy to figure out. It's a portmanteau of sorts of "tamago" (egg) and "watch" (as in wrist watch), also explaining the egg-shape of the Tamagotchi itself. The traditional layout has remained the same: a screen with three buttons underneath for deciding how to care for your little critter.

Depending on what Tamagotchi you own, the basics of what you can do with them might be a little different (a little more on that to follow), but how an owner interacted with them was pretty much the same. Owners started off with an egg, which would hatch and could be named. From there on out, it was purely raising your Tamagotchi by playing with it, feeding it, cleaning up its poops and taking care of it every day. Failure to take care of a Tamagotchi properly killed it, not unlike that time you dropped your egg baby in home ec class, you monster.

Depending on how you raised your Tamagotchi and what gender it was, it would grow into different forms as it progressed through each life stage. Eventually, your Tamagotchi would be paired with another of the opposite gender, mate, then leave behind an again to start the whole process over. Ah, the circle of life.


As I hinted at earlier, there are several different versions of Tamagotchi, but for Toys of Yesterday, we're going to focus on the ones you likely remember: the original launch version and the follow-up version 2. In the above image, you can see them in the second row from the bottom, namely on the right side. Original Tamagotchi can always be picked out easily: their keychains are on top of the egg. These earlier versions were produced between 1996 and 2004, and the major difference between the two versions were new items, foods and games in the later version. 

For both versions, there were hundreds, if not maybe even thousands, of different combinations of styles and colors for the casing. Some were clear, some were two-tone, some had patterns: what kind of Tamagotchi you could end up having was entirely up to chance, and for the most part, no two people in the same school really had the same ones. Or at least that was my experience. 

For the record, the one I had when I was younger is the exact same as the translucent orange one in the second from bottom row, third from the right.


That being said, even with the original Tamagotchi, there were many Japanese exclusive versions. There was TamaOtch, which was named after a Japanese actress and could become a movie star; Santaclautch, which you can see above, that was literally a Christmas-style Tamagotchi; and Ocean and Garden versions of the original Tamagotchi. They even made a Mothra Tamagotchi.


Seriously. That's it right there.


By 2004, Tamagotchi was ready for a bit of a makeover, as technology had progressed a bit. Bandai responded with a brand-new Tamagotchi for the 21st century, Tamagotchi Connection. Featuring a pause option and infrared connection via a new infrared sensor embedded in the top of the Tamagotchi Connection shell, the upgraded Tamagotchi had better graphics and animations, but at its core, was still the same pet we'd all grown up loving. Later editions allowed for pets to be move stars or rockers, as well as added in connectivity with cell phones in Japan (but not in the U.S.).

Today, the series has undergone another change: it's name. Now called TamaTown by Tamagotchi in its newest iteration, the new ones push connectivity to the Internet in a big way and allow you to link up a "character" with your device to unlock more stuff. There's even a carrying case for all your crap. Seriously. It makes me pine for the days of old, when a simply little plastic egg with three buttons was enough to keep you busy for hours on its own ...

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Brian Szabelski
Brian SzabelskiEditor-in-Chief   gamer profile

Brian Szabelski is Tomopop's Editor-in-Chief, stuck with an ever-growing collection of figures and toys. When he's not posting on Tomopop, he can usually be found working on any number of project... more + disclosures


Filed under... #Bandai #features #Toys of Yesterday



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