Don Quijote: A retail treasure hunt

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Brett is one of our tour leaders. He lives in Yokohama, Japan’s second-biggest city, and spends his free time frequenting Tokyo’s retro video game arcades, seeking out new restaurants, and eating tonkotsu ramen whenever possible.

“Hey Brett, what’s that store over there about?”

As a tour leader here in Japan, I get this question quite often. Often enough, in fact, that I’ve decided to write a blog about it. The answer to this seemingly simple question is, unfortunately, decidedly not simple. Because the store in question is Don Quijote.

Don Quijote, or “Donki” as it’s affectionately known by the locals, is a store that sells, well, everything. From horse head masks to Gucci bags, to adult goods, to green tea flavoured anything, Donki has your weird retail needs covered. Many times before coming over to Japan, you’ll get asked by family or friends to bring something back for them. Something Japanese. Something weird. Chances are you can find it in Donki.

Started in 1989, Donki now has over 150 stores spread throughout Japan. Because the stores operate into the wee hours of the morning, and some even open 24 hours with no closing days, Donki has always attracted the fringe crowd here in Japan. The up-all-night students. The bored. The night owls. Many other stores around the country close relatively early, in the late evening. For this reason, Donki has become increasingly popular in the past decade, with new stores opening at a frightening pace.

Another reason Donki has become a go-to place for locals and foreigners alike is because of the vast and varied stock on display. Donki claims to have on offer over 45,000 products on display in a space that is, on average, less than 1,000 square metres. This leads to an assault on the senses when entering the store. The labyrinthine set-up takes customers past thousands of different products, some necessary and some completely unnecessary.

The store is famous for what they call a “compressed display”, which is a fancy name for what is, essentially, retail chaos. Store displays can take up an entire space, from floor to ceiling, with hundreds of items spilling out everywhere. It is no surprise that the founder of Donki, Takao Yasuda, likens the store to a treasure hunt. He once said in an interview in the Japan Times that the point of the display “…is hard to find, hard to take, and hard to buy.” In this way, shoppers spend more time at the store just browsing, digging through items hoping to find that elusive treasure to bring back home to show their friends.

Usually multi-storey and neon-lit, Don Quijote can be found everywhere. Two of the most popular are located in the raucous Kabukicho district of Shinjuku and the placid, temple-dominated Asakusa. Because those two districts host many visitors to Japan, those particular Donki stores are used to foreigners and what they typically want to buy. One manager said the number one best-selling items are all the different flavours of Kit Kats on offer. Another big seller is the various make-up and brand goods for sale.

So, if you ever find yourself in need of lip balm or a horse head mask at 3am in Tokyo, be sure to hit up Don Quijote. You honestly never know what buried treasure you may find!

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