If you think shopping for souvenirs in Japan is always expensive, you’re wrong. There are thousands of “hyaku en” shops across Japan, also called 100 yen shops, ranging in size from tiny back-street hole-in-the-wall outfits the size of convenience stores, to multi-level department stores. Although the story goes that the first 100 Yen Shop started out from the back of a truck in the late 1970’s, these bargain basement outlets exploded onto Japanese high streets in earnest in the late 1990’s, largely due to the bite of the country’s persistent recession. And one of the most impressive of these fascinating bargain emporiums in Tokyo is Daiso on Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori shopping streett. The three-floor store is a haven for cheap souvenirs, and makes life easier for international shoppers by offering floor guides in English, and staff who can speak English. Every item on the shelves costs a simple 100 yen; at the current exchange rate, that’s roughly equivalent to $1.25. And although nit-pickers might argue about the name – they should actually be called 105 yen shops after adding another five yen in sales tax – what they cannot deny is the incredible quality and value-for-money they offer a canny traveller looking for keepsakes to take back home.
Forget any comparisons to Australia’s home-grown dollar shops, however. Although the 100 yen shops clearly aim their business at domestic consumers, there are plenty of alluring souvenirs hiding in between the mountains of cheap plastic containers, watering cans, and household cleaners. Most shops carry around 3,000 different products. If you love decorated chopsticks, the ones in the 100 yen shops are often as good as those you can buy in fancy department stores, only at a fraction of the price. Other worthwhile bargains include toys for younger children, surprisingly good quality Japanese ceramics and pottery, cheap cosmetics, and decorative pens and note pads. The kitschy end of the scale is where the real shopping fun can be had, however, with uniquely Japanese goodies including geisha backpack charms and key rings, anime figures, Hello Kitty toilet paper, professional wrestlers’ masks, and ping pong bats adorned with an unknown champion’s face. And alongside these, you’ll find other bizarre items purchased in vast quantities cheaply from China, Russia, India, or Brazil, such as paper cocktail napkins featuring buxom women and curious Russian slogans.