April Doki Doki crate

Photo by Lisa Granshaw

We unpacked two months of Japan Crate's newest subscription box.

In December, the options for geek culture subscription boxes expanded with a new monthly box offering the cutest geek goods from Japan

Founder Hank Rao created Japan Crate to bring Japanese culture to your doorstep. The company's latest box is the Doki Doki Crate—named for the popular sound for a heartbeat in Japanese culture.

"We really wanted that to be the feeling you get when you see that crate of ours sitting on your doorstep. We want your heartbeat to be a little bit faster, a little bit more excited," Rao told the Daily Dot in a phone interview earlier this year.

Subscription boxes cover a wide range of interests from fandom to science. The choices are always growing as companies look to provide people with options that fill their desire to get something fun delivered to them in the mail once a month. Some subscriptions cater to a broad range of nerdy interests, while others serve a more narrow or specific focus.

That means Doki Doki Crate entered an already competitive field when it debuted a promising first release in December. However not long after, the company began receiving complaints from subscribers about bootleg items included in the box. After speaking with Rao in January, we decided to wait and see if the situation got fixed. Now we can compare what we found in the company's fifth crate released in April to the contents from the initial box.

The Beginning of Doki Doki Crate

When Japan Crate began in September 2014, it focused on delivering cool foods: Japanese candy, snacks, and drinks. Rao told the Daily Dot they decided to launch the new box after seeing the big interest Japan Crate garnered and seeing demand for Japanese-related items beyond just consumables.

A survey was sent to the community to see what other types of crates it might want, and the response was biggest for a kawaii or anime-focused crate. "Kawaii," or cute, is a term used to describe light-hearted Japanese pop-culture items, from animals to manga characters. The feedback led Rao to the decision that a kawaii crate would resonate best.

Lisa Granshaw

December's Doki Doki Crate

December's Doki Doki Crate Lisa Granshaw

April's Doki Doki Crate

April's Doki Doki Crate Lisa Granshaw

The crate costs $30 a month (with slight per-month savings if you choose a multi-month plan) and promises to feature eight to 10 items. The first crate from December included nine products while the fifth crate from April included seven, eight if you count the refill one product came with. Each also arrived with a booklet that explained everything that came in the box.

According to Rao, deciding on what type of kawaii items to include in Doki Doki involved a mix of drawing from the expertise of his staff and listening to potential subscribers, who expressed interest in small plushies, key chains, blind boxes, and stationery items. In addition to the regular monthly crates, each Doki Doki Crate subscriber is also automatically entered to win a special box called the Suteki Crate each month, which includes even bigger items.

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Bootleg Items

If these types of kawaii items interest you, you'll be happy to hear the first crate from December and the recent April crate succeeded in providing them. However, during the Doki Doki Crate's second outing in January, subscribers alleged that "about half" of the items in the crate were unofficial bootleg items.

Japan Crate apologized in a blog post and said that the items came from a supplier with whom they have now ceased operations. They offered a full refund including shipping to anyone interested and asked people to provide feedback in an online survey. The same problem then arose with the February crate, with the Good Smile Company posting about a bootleg figure in the box on their Facebook page. Japan Crate posted about the matter on its blog, once again offering refunds. This led to many expressing their frustration with the continuing issue, while others commented that they didn't care as long as the items they were receiving were cute and usable.

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The impact of getting bootlegs versus officially licensed items seems to vary from subscriber to subscriber. While fans who just want cute stuff may not mind, those who want genuine kawaii products from Japan might have second thoughts about paying for a crate that's had recurring problems, especially since the items are supposed to be authentic.

While Japan Crate would not directly comment on our specific questions regarding the issue, it did point to a website update listing its new partnerships. The company also sent a statement that included much of the information that can be found on its blog, ending with the following message:

Please do not let this situation dictate how you feel about Doki Doki Crate and Japan Crate as a whole.  We’re a small company that’s trying to do the best we can, and sometimes we don’t get it right the first time.  As a result, we’re holding in-person meetings with verified suppliers to ensure authenticity of future items.  In addition, we're now working with licensors to create products exclusively licensed for Japan Crate/Doki Doki.  

Once again, we sincerely apologize for everything that has happened with Doki Doki Crate, and hope that you still believe in us. We're taking every opportunity to improve our operations and products, and we look forward to utilizing that to bring Doki Doki Crate to its full potential.

Comparing Boxes 

If you want a closer look at what you'll receive from Doki Doki Crate so you can make up your own mind about whether or not you'd want these items, we might be able to shed some light on them. Here's what we found in the initial box and what showed up in the latest offering.

Upon opening the December box I was impressed by the size of the nine items, especially the large Nya-Kuma plush. Some subscription boxes stay small, but this box was filled to the top. The plush came with one of those window suction cups—which I found works very well—in case you'd rather hang your plush up than have it sitting around. There is a stray thread on mine—something I'd worry could lead to a tear over time—and you can see some of the background face color through the black of the eyes, but otherwise the plush feels well made.

An adorable small Chibi Totoro designed by Studio Ghibli from Sun Arrow was also included. This and the Nya-Kuma bear were the most impressive toys in the crate in my opinion, though Hello Kitty fans might be more excited by the fact that a blind box was included that contained one of five differently dressed Hello Kitty figures.

Lisa Granshaw

As for things you might use day to day in the box, there were quite a few items, though exactly how useful they are will depend on you individually. The Alpacasso coin purse is cute and small. It won't hold much if you like to carry a lot of change, but the size means it will at least be easy to carry if you want to travel light. 

The panda sleep mask is not something I will get much use out of, though it is cute and felt comfortable when I tried it on. It did feel like the one item where the quality didn’t quite match with the rest of the box. I don’t wear sleep masks, but the instructions and explanations on the back of the packaging seemed to be trying a bit too hard to convince me of the benefits of the eye mask. One line states: 

"improve because of overtax one's brains to induce feel dizzy and dimmed in eyesight, forgetful, amnesia, anorxia, and other discomfort. Relieve migraine, meurasthenia, insomnia and other brain fatigue syndrome, improve work efficiency." 

Spelling errors aside, the pitch didn’t do much to convince me the mask was worth trying.

For geek fashion fans, the crate featured an adorable Pokémon necklace of Pikachu cosplaying as Charizard. The necklace has an adjustable chain and while it doesn't look like it would be easy to do, it seems possible to remove the charm if you would rather put it on a different chain. The charm itself is great, but might be a bit big for anyone who prefers subtler geeky accessories.

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

My favorite items from the crate were the ones that I'll find the most useful. My love for Studio Ghibli probably has something to do with it too. I was impressed by the size of the Totoro desk calendar and Totoro zipper pouch. The pouch looks like it can hold a lot and features great My Neighbor Totoro art. The calendar also features adorable images each month and has a sturdy stand. The size of the calendar offers enough room so that you can write on it if you want to keep track of important dates, and it doesn't take up much space on a desk whether you stand it up or keep it flat.

The last item I tried was the Henshin Awa jelly DIY kit, which I wasn't surprised to find included since the Doki Doki crate is by Japan Crate. The packaging was in Japanese, but English instructions were included in the booklet. While the jelly was not quite to my taste, it was definitely a interesting experience and a unique thing to include in a kawaii box.

Overall, I was impressed by the amount of products and their quality in the December box. The eye mask had the only package the featured (rough) English, other than the front of the Totoro pouch and the front of the calendar, which also features the name of the film in Italian throughout.

In the April box, the items did appear to be from more recognizable brands, and none of them struck me as being particularly low quality. While for the most part the items were smaller than their December counterparts, the crate came with one of five Amuse plushies that were a decent size. I received the Alpacasso, which was rather cute.

The plush wasn't the only item in the crate from Amuse. There was also a nice sized Coroham Coron pouch and a Kotoritai flashing bird that's supposed to work in your hand or in a bowl of water. Mine remained flashing even after two hours had passed. There were also two items from Hoppe Chan in the crate. One was a small, cute charm and the booklet announced that a new Hoppe Chan would appear in every month of the crate moving forward. There was also an exclusive Hoppe Chan x Doki Doki Crate postcard set that was quite colorful. 

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

The last two items included one that was the most recognizable to me and one that I will probably be using the least. Like many, I'm playing cat collector game Neko Atsume, so I instantly recognized the item inspired by the game. Each box was supposed to include a Neko Atsume charm or clip. The item was cute and stayed well when I attached it to my phone.

The final item was a Re-Ment Charmy Loom DIY jewelry kit, which also came with a refill, and could be used to create bracelets. Since the instructions were not in English, the booklet directed people to Japan Crate's YouTube page where a video walked you through the process. It included a similar guide with photos on its Facebook page. I still didn't have the best of luck trying to create a bracelet and don't think it would be something I'd use often and need a refill for. The charms and bands weren't really a style I'd wear often either, though it looks like from photos subscribers are sharing it is possible to make some interesting jewelry with it.

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[Placeholder for https://www.facebook.com/japancrate/photos/a.1227030240643116.1073741833.848747315138079/1227030330643107/ embed.]

While there were fewer things I felt I'd use repeatedly in this April box, it did deliver on providing a variety of cute items. As I was looking through its contents, however, couldn't help but feel the unfortunate shadow of doubt about whether counterfeit items would once again find their way into the box. Without this lingering misgiving, the Doki Doki Crate would be an interesting new addition to the monthly subscription box field. Hopefully the company will be able to avoid the same problems from now on. Japan Crate is trying to improve their original food box as well, so it does seem like the company is aware they have to make changes to avoid future problems. Whether or not this is enough to appease potential subscribers remains to be seen. 

Disclosure: Japan Crate provided Doki Doki Crates and Japan Crates to the Daily Dot for review.

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