I’ll admit, before I came to Japan, I’d only shopped at the dollar store a few times in my life. The image I had was of very cheap, poorly made items that fall apart after a single use. If that’s the case, surely it’s not a good deal? But Japanese dollar stores have a reputation for delivering functional and stylish products that everyone, no matter their income level, stops to buy. I’ve compiled my list of recommended products that you can find at your local Daiso, Seria, or Can-Do, as well as a few that don’t quite live up to the hype.
Holiday and Party
You will often see giant displays of holiday and party items as soon as you walk into your local Hyakkin; they are are big sellers for a reason. Every year, the selection of fun holiday items at our local Daiso seems to get better and better. And having a little Christmas joy or Halloween charm in your life is worth a few hundred yen in my opinion. For the birthday parties in my family, we always pick up a pack of balloons and a cute banner to make the day just a little bit more special (though you’ll have to attach the balloons to the walls with tape, as they don’t usually sell helium. There’s actually a global helium shortage. Did you know that?)
Buy: Cute decorations, Halloween costumes, party banners, balloons, candles, birthday cards, wrapping paper and gift bags (though they almost never have tissue paper. Why no tissue paper, Japan?)
Avoid: Over-buying. Look, I know there’s a big selection, but try to avoid buying more than two or three items per event. Because chances are that after the holiday/birthday is over, those things will just end up taking up space in your apartment before eventually hitting the bin.
Cosmetics, Accessories, and Fashion
Stores like Daiso have focused their efforts as of late on appealing to their younger audience, keeping up with local trends and releasing products with cute designs. For example, when oversized barrettes came into fashion recently, Daiso had their own line launched in no time.
Buy: Hair accessories (especially for kids), hair brushes, makeup sponges, makeup storage pouches, nail clippers, tweezers and grooming scissors, socks, belts, ties.
Avoid: Underwear and undershirts (ill-fitting and very thin fabric, I recommend Uniqlo instead), makeup and nail polish (granted I’ve only tried these on the rare occasion, but they quickly found their way to the drawer of never-used cosmetics), novelty beauty items like face rollers that are supposed to make you look thinner or pumps that foam up your face wash for you (need I say more?)
Home organization is one of the main reasons that people find themselves in the ¥100 shop. There are racks upon racks devoted to containers to suit your every need. You’ll find a lot of large storage bins for shelf organization and smaller plastic ones for kitchen cabinets or the bathroom. A critical step you’ll want to take before leaving your house is to look at the area you want to organize and measure it. This way, you can make sure to buy exactly what you need to fit the space. Also, beware of soft materials, as they don’t tend to hold up well. Sturdier materials like woven baskets and plastic tend to stand the test of time much better.
Buy: Shelf and cabinet organizers, storage bags for clothes (look for the biggest size, as you can always roll them up a bit if they’re too big), items that hang over cabinet doors, hooks that attach with tape (not sure if they will rip wallpaper, but they come off of furniture and hard surfaces without leaving marks).
Avoid: Very small baskets and boxes (these usually just add to the clutter, unless you have a specific place for them), boxes made of soft materials, items with suction cups (these WILL fall off, no matter what surfaces you stick them to).
The ¥100 shop isn’t going to be the place to buy your home electronics (not yet, anyway), but they do have a lot of quality accessories that do the job they’re supposed to do. One of the big shocks of my life was signing up for my cell phone plan and being asked if I’d like to pay ¥2000 for a screen protector. I’ve had one ¥100 screen protector for each of the two phones I’ve owned, and have never had to change them. Moreover, I drop my phone on its face almost daily.
Buy: Screen protectors, blue light cut glasses, finger rings, cell phone cases, earphones (I like the ones with un-frayable cords).
Avoid: Lightning cables (word is, cheap ones can kill your battery), alkaline batteries (put them in my child’s toy -> batteries were dead in less than a day).
Kitchen and Cleaning
A lot of my kitchen items are from Ikea, because they have some amazing deals on multi-piece sets, but occasionally I’ll pick up some flatware or cooking essentials like ladles and strainers from Daiso. Their bowls and plates are generally nice: they have lots of different designs, many are made of ceramic and some are made in Japan. Just check the underside to make sure that the pieces you like are microwave safe.
Buy: Ceramic/glass tableware, cups, kitchen accessories (if you are really going to use them), sponges and brushes for cleaning the bath/toilet
Avoid: Unitaskers (Alton Brown has a good explanation of why kitchen items that only do one thing like peel eggs or cut oranges are bad, and I have to agree with him. Your chef’s knife can do a whole lot!), dish soap (theirs is like water, you will go through the bottle much more quickly than a higher quality, more viscous soap), bento goods (OK, some of them are cute, but ask yourself, am I really going to use this? Also, is this bento box big enough to hold an adult sized portion of food?), cutting boards (wayyyy too small), knives (good for the first few uses, but lose sharpness very quickly)
One of my favorite parts of going to Daiso is the fact that no matter what item my kid grabs from the shelves, I usually don’t have a problem buying it. Lately, we’ve been on a coloring kick, so I always make sure to stock up on plenty of coloring books, stickers, crayons, clay, chalk, and origami paper to suit her blossoming creativity. With toys, you sometimes have to be a bit vigilant, especially if you have a younger child and the toy has small pieces. One toy we bought fell apart exposing some sharp pieces, and a pail and shovel set we got splintered in a few places, creating dangerous shards. With other items like balls, puzzles or stuffed toys, we haven’t had any problems.
Buy: Arts and crafts, toys that are just one solid piece, bath toys, baby-proofing gear like door latches and padding that sticks to hard edges of furniture.
Avoid: Plastic items that seem like they might break or fall apart (inspect carefully).
I put this as the last section, because you will always find food in the last part of the store, right by the registers. That’s because this area functions like the impulse section at your supermarket back home. You know, the racks before the register that just stare at you as you wait in line, begging you to throw a chocolate bar or two into your basket? I’ve compared quite a few Daiso food items to my local supermarket, and have found that, gram for gram, the supermarket is almost always cheaper.
Buy: Not much. They do sometimes have a variety of interesting dried fruit though, like dried cranberries and blueberries.
Avoid: Most of it. Snacks, bottled drinks, condiments, packaged sauces. All much cheaper at your local grocer.
There you have it! What did you think of my analysis of the ¥100 shop? Disagree with something on the list? Have a must-buy of your own to share? Tell us about it in the comments!