# 136 One Coin Wonders
In the Japanese retail landscape of premium department stores and high street fashion brands, the 100 yen shop is quite the novelty. They cater to almost every need with stock that often spans several floors and ranges from utensils, daily necessities, and food to gardening items, makeup and underwear. Their low cost items and convenient locations are a saviour and even indulgence to many. While initially many in this country turned their nose up at such a store, nowadays the 100 yen shop customers range from the homeless, to housewives, to executives. I will admit to being a relatively regular customer over the years, and will unashamedly endorse these places as not only a place to find a bargain, but a handy source of your daily, and even not so regular, needs.
When I first moved to Tokyo I was lucky enough to be just a 5 minute walk from one such shop. It quickly became my source of initial apartment supplies - where I almost entirely equipped my place with 100 yen shop items. Having had to pay 6 months up-front of rent, I had little choice but to seek out such bargains. When people would visit and comment on items within my apartment, I would actually find myself proudly announcing the fact that I had exchanged but one coin for it. It was always even a surprise to myself that I had some quite nice things thanks to this discount store down the road.
The 100 yen shop is certainly not just for those with relatively less money in the bank however. I'll admit, that for those first few months spending weekends apartment-bound, a trip to the 100 yen shop was quite a treat - it felt like I was really shopping, and I was, but it wasn't exactly going to break the bank. I especially liked the idea that while I was living off little more than 10,000 yen a week, I still had champagne flutes! Now that I am no longer living off such a strict budget, I still visit the 100 yen shop, eager to find a bargain in terms of regular household items, and interested in any unique new stock there may be on the shelf as have come across some true 'gems' over the years.
I believe that in many cases you will find little difference in the quality of a similar item found in the 100 yen shop in a department store selling for a multiple of the price. Four years since my arrival in Tokyo I still have some of the 100 yen store items I purchased when first here. These include not only the champagne flutes and wine glasses, that when dropped don't cause nearly as much anguish, but also my entire set of plates and bowls - a set of Japanese style pottery, that people continue to comment on and that I continue to like to this day.
While discount stores defined by a dollar (or yen) amount are not uniquely Japanese, there are many items in the 100 yen shop that would only be found in Japan. There are obviously things like chopsticks and fans, or even a CD, that the average tourist on a budget would be pleased to purchase, but there are also many of the interesting products I would classify as 'Japanese inventions', also commonly found in pharmacies (although probably at a more expensive price). These include interesting grooming products, cleaning products and other goods that you just wouldn't know you ever needed, until you had them, like the hand warmer packets or the spray on stocking, just to name a couple. There are also the uniquely Japanese home items, like the housewife apron dress (the traditional uniform for a housewife in Japan), the traditional entrance door hangings (noren), and of course a wide variety of indoor slippers that can be snapped up if you want perhaps the more unusual, yet still authentic souvenirs, or even just to indulge in Japanese culture in the comfort of your own home perhaps.
These shops and their often charming items used to be only found at major train stations in central cities, but now appear in suburbs across the country. They are not confound to areas of a certain standard of living - there is a 100 yen shop just down the road from the exclusive shopping area of Roppongi Hills (in fact there are a couple), and these shops are always busy. Likewise, these discount stores are not confound to certain supermarket style retail areas, with one of the largest 100 yen stores in the country found on Takeshita Doori, Tokyo's trendiest shopping street for youth culture in Harajuku.
In many ways, the 100 yen shop is just as much a novelty store that is a window in to both the Japanese home and way of life. When I look back on my first few months in Tokyo, I really don't know how I would have survived without it, and those memories, as well as the thrill of finding a bargain, have me fondly pay regular visits (and 100 yen coins!) to these stores.