This is a repost of something I wrote after our trip to Tokyo in 2013. This time in Osaka we went to Donki many, many times, and it’s still the best store in the world.
Have you ever desperately needed a bathroom scale at 3am? Have you ever gone to the shop to pick up a can of olives for a Greek salad, then suddenly realised you need to replace your broken vibrator, immediately? Are you a cheapskate who wants to impress the guy/gyaru of your dreams by giving him/her a Rolex watch/Louis Vuitton bag? Have you ever been on the way to a costume party, but needed a fake mustache and tricycle to complete the outfit?
Where should you go in these dire, emergency situations?
The best store in the world.
Don Quijote (official website), inexplicably named after the Cervantes novel and colloquially abbreviated “Donki”, is 24-hour discount shopping at its most wacky. It’s built on the three pillars of “convenience, discount and amusement”, and the cavernous retail labyrinths certainly live up to the latter. Donki is an experience; to enter into a Don Quijote is to visit another world, full of narrow pathways that illogically lead from one rabbit hole to another. Throw in a few magic mushrooms and you’d have the ideal Alice In Wonderland shopping experience. Stock is piled from checkerboard floor up to matte black ceiling, with un-packaged sample items dangling overhead between fake vines and disco balls. Bright, hand-drawn signs with big blocky numbers and chirpy little comments (in Japanese) flash product names and prices on the end of shelves. The store layout itself shows little logic, with cosmetics leading to mobile phone accessories leading to cookware, ice cream, etc.. All the while, Donki’s theme song, “Miracle Shopping,” hums whimsically in the background.
Miracle indeed! It’s a nightmare for anyone looking for some in-and-out convenience shopping. But if you have a little time, it’s a riot.
A Donki store is typically several storeys of disorienting shopping fun. While the one in Roppongi has a roller coaster on top, my favourite is the tower of power in Shinjuku.
So, hello miracle shopping! Upon entry you’re bombarded with a kind of orderly chaos that the Japanese seem to have perfected.
It’s a bit daunting at first, so much crap in one place. But don’t worry, Don Quijote has everything you need.
Dragon Ball Z hair wax, for instance.
Super realistic fake glue-on facial hair.
And shitloads of booze!! As I mentioned, Donki’s store layout is slightly inventive, a strategy that makes shopping feel like you’re on a scavenger hunt—or better yet, a safari hunting for a rare white Bengal tiger, if tigers lived deep in the heart of poorly organised massive retail warehouses.
Game time: How many different types of product can you spot in the picture below?
If you counted ten or more, then you’re well on your way to becoming an eagle-eyed Donki hunter! Let’s continue shopping.
Next floor. Woah! What do we have here?
Looks like there’s lots of lady items on this floor. Like, for instance, NuBra!
And the world’s largest collection of fake eyelashes!
And.. speaker fountains!
You see? When you’re shopping at Donki, there are delightful surprises around every corner. If you’re in a rush, it’s not a great shopping destination. But if you’re a compulsive buyer with ADHD, it’s perfect! It’s the ultimate in convenience shopping, if “convenience” only means “having everything in one store”, and not “I can find everything quickly and easily.”
For instance, can you find Mook in the jungle below?
Of course you couldn’t! He was disguised with these stylish giraffe glasses.
It’s not all fun and games with Don Quijote, though. The shop’s dark side includes rumours that staff are forced to work long hours for a very low salary, and the fact that most locations are open either 24 hours or very late into the night makes them a gathering point for yankii punks and other lowlife, as well as being a nuisance for the neighbours. There are stories of assaults and vandalism occurring in the shops’ parking lots—something almost unheard of in Japan. Rumour has it, as well, that the parking lots purposely have no CCTV monitoring, and employees turn a blind eye to organised crime dealings in these dark areas in exchange for being subject to paying protection money and other fees.
In a more public ordeal, in 2006 Don Quijote founder and CEO Takao Yasuda attempted a rather hostile total buyout of bento company Origin Toshu after the latter’s management rejected Yasuda’s offer to turn the company into a “next generation convenience store” chain (whatever that is). The management, of course, definitely didn’t want to be bought out by Don Quijote, but thankfully retail goliath Aeon swooped in and announced their own total buyout at a higher price per stock than Yasuda could offer. Yasuda already directly and indirectly possessed 23.6 percent of Origin Toshu’s stock and, not to be deterred, picked up another 15.9 percent. He then went back to Origin and requested (politely demanded?), as the principal stakeholder, to go forward with the plans for the futuristic combini. The move was highly criticised and the Financial Services Agency appealed to the Diet to make such stock acquisitions illegal. At the end of the day, however, things were settled privately between Aeon CEO Motoya Okada and Yasuda, and the latter’s convenience store plans were never realised. Quite a business strategy, though!
Also, if anyone thought while looking at these photos, “Farking hell, that looks like a fire hazard” (something I think every time I visit), then you’re right. Three employees were killed and eight people injured when a Don Quijote in Saitama caught fire in 2004, an incident that was believed to be an arson. Donki fell under severe criticism that the confusing layout of its store and chaotic nature of the aisles made it difficult for people to exit in an emergency. What a surprise.