Words by Steven Samrock
When you envision shopping in Tokyo, perhaps a high-end fashion boutique housed in a prize-winning architectural masterpiece first comes to mind. But step behind that boutique, turn left, then right, then left again – and you’ll find a different kind of awe-inspiring shopping experience: the ¥100 shop. Japan takes the 'dollar store' or 'pound store' concept to new heights – previous expectations of what can be bought on the cheap are blown out of the water.
¥100 shops are growing ever more abundant and have captured a crucial role in Japanese society. They are a staple for locals in need of household basics, a haven for DIY enthusiasts, and a must-visit for visitors in need of gifts. At most ¥100 shops, expect to find ceramics/kitchenware, stationery/office supplies, homeware/garden supplies, toiletries/beauty supplies, and toys/games/novelty items. That said, after a bit of 'hyaku en' (¥100) treasure hunting, you come to expect the unexpected. There are surprises around every corner.
Note that some prices and products are subject to change.
The seven best ¥100 stores
Can Do is the everyman’s hyaku-en shop. This is one of Japan’s top three ¥100 shop chains and a reliable outlet for everyday necessities. Can Do offers surprisingly high quality items, about 35 percent of which are made in Japan. Kitchen and office supplies comprise a large portion of Can Do’s merchandise. Their most popular item – a yellow-duck-shaped egg timer – lets you prepare the perfect soft, medium or hardboiled egg. Can Do also offers a sizeable selection of packaged food and drink.
Most impressive: The stationery and kitchen supply selection.
Best find: Made-in-Japan wooden spoons and chopsticks
Best location: Ikejiri-Ohashi
If you’re to be stuck on an island with only one hyaku-en shop, you'd probably want it to be Seria. A combination of remarkably high product quality and premium store merchandising yields a palpable, 'This is a 100 yen shop?!' reaction. Seria’s fresh, friendly and homely feel makes it an all-round pleasurable experience to shop there. The product selection is roughly equal parts home necessities, DIY craft supplies, and clever knick-knacks. Seria stores are sometimes freestanding but also found inside most Marui malls.
Most impressive: Ceramics section, French-themed home decor.
Best find: Glazed ceramic saki set, large format sketch book.
Best location: Shinjuku
Whether you're looking for household products or cheap souvenirs, you're sure to find what you need at this three-floor ¥100 shop, a prominent landmark on Harajuku's Takeshita-dori shopping street. Daiso makes life easier for international shoppers by offering floor guides in English as well as Japanese, while some of the staff can also speak English.
Most impressive: Sheer size & magnitude.
Best find: LCD digital wristwatch.
Best location: Harajuku
Nondescript on the outside, compact on the inside, Le Plus will quickly suck you into hunting for hidden hyaku-en treasures. Kitschy kitchenware is the name of the game at this Can Do-affiliated shop. At Le Plus, you’ll have important realisations about items you’ve always needed, such as bunny-shaped jar-openers, bunny-shaped standing scissors and bunny-shaped dust mops.
Most impressive: The number of animal-shaped kitchen supplies.
Best find: Happy-face-toast-stamps.
Best location: Jiyugaoka
With its shabby chic product assortment and French folk music playing on loop, this Shibuya bargain shop is channelling France’s countryside. Natural Kitchen ranks at the higher end of the quality spectrum and not all, but most items are priced at ¥100. The vibe skews feminine, crafty and kawaii – with supplies and project ideas to make your house a home. The many miniatures are sure to make you smile.
Most impressive: Shabby chic home décor.
Best find: Porcelain dove-shaped chopstick rest.
Best location: Shibuya
Lawson Store 100 stands apart as the only fresh food outlet on our top hyaku-en shop list. Our favourite thing about Lawson Store 100 is that it's not all that different from the original Lawson. Fresh grocery items at ¥100 apiece, however, is a unique proposition. You can feast on a dime with Lawson Store 100’s fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy and daily delivered deli items.
Most impressive: Fresh meat & produce.
Best find: Fresh avocados.
Best location: Shibuya
For what Meets lacks in personality, it makes up for in practicality. With neatly organised aisles housing an impressive array of household basics, Meets is a smart spot to hit if you need to equip a new home. Well-stocked shelves supply your every need from the kitchen to the garden and the office to the bathroom. Be sure to stop by the food section for name-brand snacks at under-market prices.
Most impressive: High quality household basics.
Best finds: Woven bamboo placemats, ceramic aroma diffuser.
Best location: Sazazuka
Not exactly ¥100 but still cheap
3Coins is a ¥300 shop, stocked with colourful home accessories designed to inject a bit of joy into an otherwise mundane day. High on novelty, low on functionality, 3Coins is not the hyaku-en shop you run to when your drain is clogged or you’re low on toilet paper. Rather, pop into this one for a pink polka-dot pick-me-up.
Most impressive: The large selection of whimsical ankle-socks.
Best find: Pineapple ankle socks.
Best location: Shinjuku (Lumine Est)
Hailing from Osaka, this variety store opened its first Tokyo shop in Harajuku in September 2013. The selection includes over 1,000 items, and is displayed in an art gallery-ish style. Prices range from ¥21 to over ¥20,000, so you'll be sure to find a great present for every occasion at this surprise-filled house of fun.
Most impressive: Original product designs.
Best find: ¥50 dart pen.
Best locations: Shibuya or Omotesando
Rainbow Spectrum is an emporium of kitsch, filled with everything you ever wanted and nothing you ever needed. As colourful as the name suggests and with J-pop blaring in the background, Rainbow Spectrum’s split-level Shibuya flagship store always feels like a party in progress. Though not technically a hyaku-en shop, Rainbow Spectrum earns a place on our list for its wide range of items priced under ¥500. This is the perfect stop for party favours and gag gifts.
Most impressive: Creative image-plastered accessories.
Best find: Rainbow-coloured jubilee party glasses.
Best location: Shibuya