Over 500 thousand fake toys, many of which appear to be Pokemon plushies, have been confiscated by the South Korean Customs Service. The toys were caught mid-shipment prior to delivery to various South Korean arcades, commonly known as bangs or e-cafes. They’re typically used as prizes in crane machines, an increasingly profitable industry in South Korea. Authorities valued the toys at over 7.2 billion won, or almost 6.3 million dollars.
The toys were seized as part of an ongoing effort by the KCS to prevent illegal merchandise being imported from China. Copyright and trademarks in China are challenging issues, especially regarding Pokemon in China, and the result is a staggeringly large industry for fraudulent toys. Pokemon plushies are particularly popular, as Nintendo’s control on merchandising results in high retail value. Other plushies for properties including Hello Kitty, Spongebob, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and anime characters like Doraemon and Totoro were also taken directly from stores.
Many of the counterfeit plushies are considerably well-made. Chinese manufacturers are typically able to reverse engineer official merchandise and recreate it with surprising accuracy. Discovering the toys are false often requires looking for specific red flags including different printing on tags or labels, or checking seams to see stitching and thread. Of course, other fake merchandise is of such extremely poor quality that no one’s surprised.
Fake Pokemon merchandise from China is also a problem in the West. Merchandise sold on eBay or even through second-hand storefronts on Amazon can often be suspect. It’s increasingly prevalent due to the limited supply of Pokemon plushies and limited variety as well. With over 800 Pokemon in existence these days, even major toy retail outlets can’t manage to stock everything. The Internet is forever the best resource and so the fake plushie industry flourishes.
What can be done about the issue is another matter entirely. In South Korea, where the vast majority of fake merchandise can be found in very specific locations like arcades, it’s straightforward for customs agencies to target large shipments of contraband. In the USA it’s not so easy, as orders are more typically placed by individuals through gray markets like eBay. Even Amazon can’t verify every Pikachu being delivered from Asia, and a storefront with bad ratings can just relist under another name. The best answer may be persuading China there is an opportunity to enforce copyright and trademarks, but that’s another issue entirely.
For now, the best place to get official Pokemon is in the same place they’ve been found since 1996 — on your Nintendo handheld console.