Shopping in Japan is a fun, memorable experience. Most shops are bright and cheerful, with quirky wares and loud music. Don Quijote is no exception. It’s a “megastore”, a title well deserved. Follow me on a little trip through its doors.
It’s actually a large chain of discount stores, with over 160 locations in Japan, and 3 in Hawaii. It carries pretty much anything you can imagine, including groceries, homeware, clothing, and cosmetics, as well as some off the wall products (more on these later). Most stores have a super late, or even 24 hour, opening time, which is highly convenient if you find yourself lacking in flavoured Kit-Kats at 3am. You may hear it referred to by its shortened name “Donki” (we will continue with that for the rest of the article).
The first store opened its doors in 1980 in Suginami, Tokyo. Back then it was called Just Co., and it started its life off as just a regular retail store. A mere two years later, in 1982, it switched to wholesale. The first “Don Quijote” named store opened up in Fuchu, Tokyo, in 1989. With the name change came a change of business, from wholesale back to retail. In 1995, Just Co. fell into line, changing its name to Don Quijote Co. Ltd., finally appearing on the Tokyo stock exchange in 1998. As one of Japans only discount stores, the bursting of the Japanese economic bubble had no real damaging effects on the company. Quite the opposite actually, with the economic crisis making Japanese folks more thrifty, thus leading them into the aisles of Donki.
Donki has it’s own theme song, called “Miracle Shopping”, that plays throughout its stores. It was sung by Maimi Tanaka, an employee, and was released as a maxi single in 1999. You can listen to the song here.
Quirks and Controversies
In December 2004, the company was a victim of arson in the Kanto region, with four stores being hit. Sadly, three store employees (Morio Oshima, Mai Koishi, and Maiko Sekiguchi) lost their lives in the first arson incident. In 2007, Noriko Watanabe was found guilty of setting the fires, and sentenced to life imprisonment. At the time of the crimes, Donki was heavily criticised for its poor store layout, making exits difficult to find.
Another bone of contention was the Roppongi stores roller coaster. No seriously. In 2005, Donki decided it would be a swell idea to build a fully functioning roller coaster atop its Roppongi store. Roppoingi is a heavily populated area of Tokyo, and the backlash and concerns from residents saw the project completed, but never opened. As of today, it’s still there, still unused, and with the company silent on its future plans.
Prepare yourselves. It’s an assault on the senses. You get an idea of the chaos before you enter the main store; most entrances are crammed with bargain bins, kids rides, and gatcha machines (capsule machines). It’s weirdly organised though, with things stacked high into the rafters in some sort of order. It’s difficult to give you a walkthrough because each store is laid out differently, but I can tell you about the departments.
There’s a huge selection of kids stuff, including an eye watering toy offering. It’s a great place for birthday/Christmas shopping, you’ll definitely find something within budget that the children in your life will enjoy. The learning based toys especially are good value and look like lots of fun!
Health and Beauty
Quite possibly my favourite department, the plethora of pretty products will entertain and marvel you for hours. That’s not an exaggeration. I’ve spent 2 hours in this department alone! Grab yourself some face masks, hair products, or cosmetics. Japan is big on beauty, and a lot of the products are amazing. You’ll be spoilt for choice. Some stores also have a section for pharmaceuticals. Please note though that some medicines cannot be taken out of Japan, and that some drugs may be stronger than you are used to or contain ingredients not allowed in your home country, so shop carefully.
Clothing and Accessories
Another big department, you’ll find clothing for men, women, and children, as well as bags, shoes, and other accessories. Some places have designer stuff too, if that’s your thing. Remember that the clothing will come up a little smaller. I’m a particular fan of the geeky stuff they often stock (anime t-shirts), and also the cute hats.
You could practically deck your entire house out. You can buy textiles, small furniture options, storage solutions, lighting, kitchen and bathroom items, and decor. Let’s skip back to kitchen real quick. Gadgets. They have so many. You’ll find things you never thought you needed, like banana slicers and apple corers. The selection is impressive. They also stock great quality crockery and utensils.
Outdoor and Leisure
There’s even a camping section. You can get everything you need for a weekend in a tent, or indulge a hobby, such as cycling. The sports section is pretty neat, you can get supplies for all sorts, including baseball, football, and basketball.
Yet again, a big department. Lots of audio and visual, as well as gaming options. Bear in mind games will be region locked, so if you don’t have a Japanese console, sadly they won’t work. There’s also a big section for CDs and DVDs, and you can purchase cameras and photography equipment here too.
Fun and Games
This is a really weird area. They have a ridiculously large dress up section (year round, not just seasonal), with costumes ranging from cute (kitty cats, anime characters), to flat out weird (adult babies and BDSM themed). Check out the headwear section here. I found a Goku (Dragonball/Z character) wig and a mount Fuji hat in one store, super fun if you want to joke about with your friends, or purchase for a memorable night out. For halloween I would highly recommend a visit, you’ll surely find something. Again, watch the sizes, but even so you should be good. There’s also a great selection of anime and comic paraphernalia in this area, great for collectors. One of the best things I found was a beautiful Mahjong board (a game of Asian origin), but they have many other board-style games too, some of which are really quirky (stack the hamburger, for instance). Any builders here? Lots of modelling options, including nano blocks and their ilk.
Who doesn't love office supplies? Indulge yourself in the very generous stationery department. There’s a great mix of practical and cute, too.
It’s not just you Donki caters for. Pick up supplies for your furry (or not so furry) friend. Mostly cat and dogs, but they also have a decent section for aquariums.
The car section is actually pretty well stocked, with just about everything you could need. They have practical items such as cleaning supplies, oils, and fluids, as well as decorative items such as steering wheel covers and dash ornaments (it’s big here to customise your car, especially in a cute fashion).
Food and Drink
Most stores also have a grocery area. Fresh produce, meats, dairy, instant food, snacks, treats, and drinks can all be found. This is one of the best places to find those all-famous flavoured Kit-Kats. In Donki alone I've seen matcha (green tea), strawberry, cheese cake, beniimo (Okinawa sweet potato), sake, and sakura flavour. Some are seasonal (like the sakura), and some are regional (like the beniimo in Okinawa), all are worth a look. The sake ones are an acquired taste, but the strawberry and matcha options are really good! There’s also a lot of other great Japanese candies on sale, so treat yourself! I like the instant food section too. The curry mix is simple and quick, great for making a large meal for very little in terms of cost and effort.
Yep. An adult section. This will usually be lurking in the back, behind a big curtain that has a large 18+ warning on it. It has all the usual articles, as well as some not so usual items (anime themed. That’s all I dare say). You can also find prophylactics here, as well as lotions and potions, so it isn’t all weird. The health and beauty section also stocks condoms, and some stores even have a handy TV screen with a cheery woman demonstrating how to use condoms (don’t worry, she just uses her hands). My favourite part is when she blows one up like a balloon and touches it to her nose.
Some products can be bought by foreign visitors tax free, a saving of 8%! These include food, medicine, and cosmetics. Simply take your passport and show your visa stamp at checkout to be eligible. More information here.
Know you’re going to be in Japan and want to ensure you can get certain products? Pre-order! Donki has a special website for just this purpose, ensuring what you want is in stock and saved just for you! A great service. Have a look here.
I love Donki. It’s bright, loud, and it has literally everything I could want or need. It’s a must visit for anyone coming to Japan that wants to see a slice of daily life, or go home with something unique to the Land of the Rising Sun. Find your nearest store here.