We’ve all heard that Japan is expensive. And it can be extremely expensive in a Paris, New York, Sydney kind of way. Public transportation, for one, is very expensive. But many things are cheaper in Japan. Most people don’t realize that Japan is much cheaper than it was 10 years ago.
This is because in the past 10 years, Japan has opened its doors to imports. This is called jiyuuka (jee-you-ka), literally “liberalization.” As a result, what cost 500 yen (US$4.10) 10 years ago, can often be found for only 100 yen (US$.82) now. The difference is in the origin of the product. A product that is made in Japan will still cost 500 yen, but, thanks to jiyuuka, you can now get the same product made in China, for just 100 yen. Apples grown in Japan will cost you 200 yen each, but because of jiyuuka, you can now get apples from America for 60 yen each.
At the forefront of jiyuuka are the “100 yen stores,” called “hyakkin” (hyak-keen) in Japanese slang. Hyakkin is the equivalent of the Dollar Store, and the quality of the products is usually excellent.
In hyakkin, you can get Japanese souvenirs such as small Buddha statues, daruma key chains, maneki-neko keychains, noren curtains, paper lanterns, furin wind chimes, and Japanese indigo fabrics in traditional designs made into coasters and place mats. And, of course, there is a selection of hundreds of different kinds of chopsticks and chopstick holders. If you can bear the weight, hyakkin is also a great place to pick up ceramics such as rectangular sushi dishes, small square tsukemono (pickled vegetable) dishes, and Japanese tea and sake cups. They also have traditional Japanese toys such as wooden tops, paper balloons, and kenta games. Hyakkin gets in on the holiday cheer too, so if you are in Japan for New Year’s, for example, you can pick up paddles, kites, and other New Year’s decorations.
Hyakkin also sells food, mostly instant freeze-dried packaged foods but also snacks like cookies and potato chips. Some stores even sell fresh vegetables and produce.
Where to find them
Hyakkin vary in size from a small corner of the local supermarket to the larger hyakkin chains such as “Daiso” that can be their own building several stories high. Usually these stores will have “100 yen” written all over the outside of the buildings, so you can’t miss them. These days they seem to be on every corner.
100 yen stores don’t bother with price tags. You can be sure that all goods cost 100 yen unless otherwise marked.
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com