Sometimes it feels like breaking the bank on some sick apparel and accessories is the pinnacle of showing one’s devotion to their favorite franchise. From intricate collectibles to literal runway fashions, there is no shortage of high-end options for fandom merch.
But showing your love for a game or series doesn’t have to be a major investment. And it can even come with some sushi on the side. Since 2018, Kura Sushi USA, a Japanese chain restaurant, has been blessing fans with licensed accessory collections inspired by popular shonen series and a host of other beloved brands with its Bikkura Pon prize machines.
Guests who enter one of the 46 Kura Sushi restaurants in North America are instantly immersed in Japanese culture. From its 140 menu items to the dazzling décor, Kura Sushi USA transports hungry diners into an authentic Japanese eating experience.
Kura Sushi’s Bikkura Pon prize machines top off the experience by giving guests a chance to walk home with new anime trinkets (and a full stomach!) All guests have to do is place 15 empty sushi plates into the Bikkura Pon prize machine and the machine dispenses a limited-edition prize. Fifteen plates may sound like a lot, but it makes more sense when you know that Kura’s sushi plates that cost less than $4 each.
It’s also possible to purchase the prizes, in case you don’t plan to have a big meal but still want to bring home a trinket.
According to Kura Sushi USA Promotions and Licensing Manager Sally Kurosaki, Bikkura machines are a successful component to Kura Sushi locations in Japan. Its entertaining addition to Japanese dining experiences encouraged the chain to incorporate the prize machines into their locations around the U.S.
Long before taking her current role of spearheading Kura Sushi’s IP campaigns, Kurosaki was manning the front of the house as a server at the chain’s Torrance, California, location. It only took her a year and a half to rise through the ranks into Kura’s Corporate Support Center, where she put her BFA to use as a public relations and promotions assistant.
As part of Kura Sushi’s corporate team, Kurosaki was part of bringing in intellectual property (IP) partners for U.S. Bikkura Pon prizes, starting in 2018. “I was very excited to be a part of this new beginning,” she says.
Naruto Shippuden was the first anime series to get the Kura Sushi Bikkura Pon twist. The 2018 collection brought fans a variety of trinkets, such as phone mounts featuring chibi versions of Team Seven, three erasers with art from the anime decorating the packaging, and a lanyard of the Hidden Leaf Village’s most formidable ninjas.
Throughout the next five years, Kura Sushi’s Bikkura Pon Prize machines have dispensed 17 collections of limited-edition goodies for fans all over the country. One-Punch Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, Demon Slayer, Tetris, and — most recently — We Bear Bears, are just a few of the IPs that Kura Sushi USA has partnered with for its Bikkura Pon prizes.
As a staple feature in Kura Sushi’s dining experience, the Bikkura Pon Prize machines garner a great deal of interest from both establishment regulars and anime fans walking into the restaurant for the first time. Much like its revolving sushi bar, Kura’s rolodex of partners generates foot traffic into the restaurant with new guests coming in to get an accessory of their favorite character every campaign cycle, according to Kurosaki.
In the initial stages of a new licensed collection, Kurosaki and her team stay in close contact with their partners in every step of the process, from the nuts and bolts of development to the campaign launch.
“Once everything has been approved, we go to mass production, develop promotional materials, and arrange for all merchandise and materials to arrive at all of our restaurants so that the collaboration starts on the same day across all of our U.S. locations,” Kurosaki says. “We consider what prize types we’ve done in the past and always look to try to incorporate new and exciting options.”
But throughout the multifaceted preproduction and production phases, Kurosaki states that one of the biggest challenges is choosing which products will actually make it in the machines.
“When I see the mock-ups and prototypes, I want them all to be a part of the collection.” she says. “Each IP has their own unique, great qualities and characteristics. We’ve been fortunate to work with incredible IPs that have been excellent partners and are excited for the new collaborations that we have in the pipeline.”
Whether you’re a die-hard Demon Slayer fan or just looking for a fun sushi-eating experience, Kura Sushi just might be the next restaurant to add to your favorites list. Get your very own anime treasure while simultaneously getting your grub on by visiting a Kura Sushi USA location near you. Locations and more information are available on kurasushi.com.