Shiho, 43, stopped in at a 100-yen shop on her way home from work. She was out of garbage bags, that most unromantic of household items – but while there, she thought, why not look around a bit? You never know what you’ll find, and sure enough, here was a surprise – wine. One-hundred yen wine. Her husband doesn’t like wine, so she rarely gets to indulge her own taste for it, but… well, why not? “If it’s no good,” she shrugged, expecting the worst, “I’ll just throw it down the sink, and what’ve I lost? A hundred yen!” Big deal.
At home, a second surprise awaited her – the wine wasn’t bad. Not great, but certainly drinkable. Enjoyable, even.
The 100-yen shops are like that. Josei Seven (Feb 26) chronicles their rise – from nothing a generation ago to fixtures it would be difficult to imagine daily life without today. They’re more than convenient, and more than cheap. They’re fun.
Economist Takuro Morinaga traces their history back to street stalls popular in the 1970s – makeshift establishments that were here today, gone tomorrow. They sold stationery, keyholders and miscellaneous bric-a-brac, each item, whatever it was, priced at 100 yen. The 1980s saw the rise of supermarkets, which on occasion would stage “100-yen sales.” Slowly the idea took hold. In the vanguard was Daiso Industries, which opened its first “The Daiso” 100-yen shop in 1991 and now runs roughly 3,700 of them. Ranking second is Seria with 1,200 outlets; third, CanDo with 900. That adds up to 5,000-odd shops nationwide and something of a shopping revolution.
What are you running short of? Fertilizer for the garden? Flower pots? Batteries? Slippers? Clothespins? Toilet cleaner? Maybe something a little less practical? Handmade costume jewelry? Lunchboxes for the kids, festooned with popular cartoon characters? Or maybe nothing specific; you’ll explore the stock and if something catches your eye – an onion slicer? A device that removes seeds from mangoes? “How silly,” you think – “I don’t need this!” But… 100 yen, a mere 100 yen. No one will accuse you of doing violence to the household budget if indulgence comes so cheap.
How does this work, though, in economic terms? How can 100-yen shops turn a profit, 100 yen at a time? Mass production, bulk ordering and uncluttered distribution channels are the three secrets, Josei Seven finds. The first involves ordering from low-wage factories in developing countries (what the working conditions in those factories might be is not discussed); the second, ordering in units of tens of thousands: the third, dealing directly with the manufacturers – no middlemen.
Can such a plethora of items as 100-yen shops boast all be of the same value? Of course not, Morinaga explains. The shop’s cost price will vary, depending on the item, from 10 yen to well above 100 yen. “In the end,” he says, “cheaper items and more expensive ones balance each other out, and it works out very profitably.”
The concept is not unique to Japan – “dollar shops” are highly popular in North America, for example – but something in the Japanese character seems to favor it. “The Japanese like new things,” says Morinaga, “new and clean. They’re comfortable with throwing things out after use” – the disposable chopsticks known as waribashi being a prime example of what he calls Japan’s “waribashi culture.” “In Europe,” he says, “people will use things for decades.” Hundred-yen shops might not do so well there.© Japan Today