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Retail Safari: Daiso, a Japanese brand that isn’t about craft or kawaii

Katie Ewer takes on Daiso for her latest Retail Safari

There are some Japanese cultural exports that romance us with their aura of understated elegance and artistry. There are those that captivate us with their imagination and visual wit. There are those whose kawaii qualities make them utterly irresistible. And then there is Daiso.

Ah, Daiso. How many of us can say we have never been seduced by its lurid pink neon signage and promises of disposable plastic bliss? If there’s a random product that you can’t find anywhere else, chances are you’ll find it in Daiso. Plastic rain pants? Check. Tube squeezer? Check. Sushi roller, steering wheel sun protector, chair socks for the love of god? Check, check, check.

The giant of the 100-yen store concept, Daiso has over 3000 stores globally, which is the kind of scale that allows it to keep its prices to S$2 (GBP1). There are 15 stores in Singapore alone, which is a great deal of tat for such a small island. The brand was founded way back in 1977 by Hirotake Yano, which makes it the daddy of all dollar stores / pound shops / 100-yen stores. In Harajuku, Tokyo there is a store that spans 10,500 square feet, and in front of Machida station there is another with 5 levels of random objects.

There’s nothing sophisticated about Daiso’s retail experience. There’s no interactivity, no education, no ‘retailtainment’. And why should there be? Daiso is about variety and affordability, so what it delivers is aisle after aisle of stuff that’s either really useful or really weird. And though its prices may be low, it’s playing a volume game – because nobody leaves Daiso with just one thing.

It’s amazing how quickly a shopper can move from a baseline of zero awareness to an intense desire to own some fluffy socks for their chairs. (Fun fact – Japanese has a word for inventions that are technically practical, but utterly eccentric – ‘chindogu’). Daiso’s expansive product range might also have something to do with the hyper-specificity of its product targeting. Example: “Comic Book Storage Box”. (Not just for any magazine, people!).

Actually, it’s not even Daiso. It’s ‘The Daiso’. And its mission is ‘to help customers find surprises and fun’! So here’s a few surprises I found The Daiso, ranked in order of WTF:

A trip to Daiso is always good for a laugh, and often genuinely helpful. But there’s something about the mountains of cheap plastic crap it produces that seems increasingly out of step with our times. Will we fall out of love with its promise?

In the first edition of 'Retail Safari: Fearless dispatches from the frontier of consumerism' Katie Ewer bravely explored the environment created by Korean beauty brand Innisfree.

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Katie Ewer

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