Sunday, May 06, 2007

Made in Japan

Before I went to Japan last Thanksgiving Eleanor asked me to get her some small single edged razor blades on a plastic stalk. I picked them up at a 7/11 in Tokyo. Before I went back in April I asked her if she needed any more. "No thanks", she said. I get them at Daiso now".

We have dollar stores, the Japanese have 100 Yen stores. Daiso is a 100 Yen store and it's starting to show up in North America on the west coast from Richmond, BC to the Bay Area. For me the great thing about that is that it's mostly unchanged from a Daiso store in Tokyo. Most items for sale are $1.50 or $2 and most of the products are packaged exactly the way they are in Japan, in either Japanese or Engrish or both. In many cases if you don't know kanji you don't know what's in the package.

Some of the products have cultural problems. Before I went to Japan in April I stopped off at the Daiso store in Seattle (Westlake, there's another one at the Alderwood Mall) and bought some vacuum travel bags. You put your clothes in the bag, roll the air out and seal them up for a tight pack and extra luggage space. They had a bag for sale that seemed to be for underwear, the pictures showed underwear and bras going into a blue bag. When I got them home I discovered that these bags weren't fit for Bubba's britches, by American standards these bags were large blue sandwich bags. But Daiso has all sorts of Japanese cleaning supplies, cheap tools, kitchen ware. Much of the stuff is made in China for the Japanese market.

Daiso seems to have been careful to filter out many of the home market products that would have no use here but a few got through. I caught their store in downtown Seattle selling little learners signs to hang from the left rear mudflap of as car. The packaging implied that these were mandatory for new drivers. They might be there but not here. They were also selling cheap cell phone headsets. That's fine but Japanese cell phone headset connectors all seem to adhere to a Japanese standard, one that isn't used on US market phones. But many products survive their trip across the Pacific with their Engrish intact, here's a small car bag for the car that I bought at Daiso for $1.50.

When I travel overseas I love to hit the local stores. Hands down one of the best stores I've found is Tokyu Hands. I dropped a few hundred dollars there and would go back tomorrow if I could. Tokyu Hands is what Home Depot and Lowes want to be when they grow up. In Tokyu Hands I bought a replacement knob for the lid of my old Hitachi rice cooker (the original knob was cheap and had long ago stripped), some gorgeous ergonomic screwdrivers (Made by Vessel, I paid extra for the tang-thru), a pair of pliers made by a company named Lobster and another set of pliers with replaceable plastic jaw liners - pliers with a soft touch. The Japanese have a gadget for every real or imagined need so when I saw this simple tool for recycling I knew I had be the first on my block to own one. It's great! I also scored a small hand saw for yard work. In Japan it's sold as the XBeam but the US arm of Tagaki Tools or their importer changed the name here to Shark Corporation and the name of the saw to Yardshark. It looks like Crocodile Dundee's jack knife. Boy, does it ever chew through wood. Nowhere in this post have I said that anything I bought in Japan was cheap. Buying anything in Japan is never cheap, at least not by US norms. But shopping in Japan makes up in innovation and selection what it looses in price.