Sara Francis-Fujimura revels in Japan's hundred-yen shops
Excerpted from To Japan With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, available from ThingsAsian Press.
Undoubtedly the best-kept shopping secret in Japan is its hundred-yen (hyaku-en) shops. They are nothing like our dollar stores back home. Everything is priced at one hundred yen, and at an exchange rate of about one hundred yen per dollar, I can stock up on everything from toothpaste to fireworks to squid snacks, all at a fraction of the usual retail price.
Being a budget-conscious parent, I love to watch my kids' faces light up when I tell them they can buy anything they want at one of these stores. I purchase all of my sushi-making tools and bento-making equipment there. I also routinely stock up on expensive-looking stationery, ornate chopsticks, and last season's Hello Kitty doo-dahs, to bring back as small presents that won't break the bank, and also won't take up a lot of room in my suitcase.
Scrapbookers and paper crafters will love the decorative washi paper, stickers, and other inexpensive art supplies available at most of the stores. They are also great places to try out new foods, particularly snacks. Wonder what dried cuttlefish tastes like? Buy a bag, and if it's not your taste, pitch it.
Much to my husband's chagrin, I've never found a hundred-yen shop that I didn't like, and I've certainly never come home without a few "I-just-couldn't-pass-it-up!" buys. Of all the shops I've discovered, my favorite is Apio at Ogaki Station in Gifu Prefecture. I've been known to spend hours treasure hunting there.
My Japanese friends laugh at my confessions of spending more than ten thousand yen (one hundred dollars) at a hundred-yen shop, but the bargains are just too great. And ... shhh! Don't tell my American friends, but most of their souvenir gifts came from one of these shops as well.
Hundred-yen stores can be found all over Japan. The best places to find hundred-yen stores are in the larger train stations. There are also plenty of mom-and-pop versions, and department stores often have a section (and sometimes a whole floor!) of hundred-yen buys. Daiso is the biggest hundred-yen chain-their website below contains a full listing of stores, including many in Tokyo.
If you happen to be in the Nagoya area in Gifu Prefecture and feel like some bargain shopping, make a detour to Apio, which is in the Ogaki Station in the city of Ogaki. The train station is served by the Tokaido, Kintetsu Yoro, and Tarumi Lines.
To read more essays from To Japan With Love, click here.
Published on 12/21/09