Japanese Store Chains: A Primer for Everyday Shopping

Congratulations! You have just arrived in Japan. The sheen is still bright, you’re riding that high of the newness of everything, and all is good. But now you need to buy a bed. And groceries. And medicine. Uh oh. Where do you go? Well, here’s a short list of (hopefully) helpful chain stores where you can buy some nice essentials and even some snacks that remind you of back home.

Drugstores

Need some ibuprofen? Allergy medicine? Feminine hygeine products? Drugstores are a dime a dozen out here; just look out for the medicine/drug kanji (薬 – kusuri) emblazoned on a large sign or the storefront. The biggest and easiest to access are Matsumoto Kiyoshi and Welcia.

Matsumoto Kiyoshi - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Matsumoto Kiyoshi via Japan Travel

Matsumoto Kiyoshi (Matsu Kiyo) is a lot like CVS and Walgreens in America. You can get a point card and you’ll get a receipt that is miles long, filled with coupons and offers. These tend to appear a lot in train stations and shopping centers. Welcia is another good option but they tend to be standalone stores, which means they might be a bit bigger and offer some options you might not find at Matsu Kiyo.

Welcia - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Welcia via Welcia.co.jp

Please note that not all drug stores have an attached pharmacy. Pharmacy has similar kanji (薬局 – yakkyoku), so keep an eye open for that extra partner kanji to see if you can get your prescription filled. Your doctor will always point you to a nearby pharmacy if you need to get medicine, so mine them for that sweet sweet knowledge.

Home Furnishings

Nitori - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Nitori by Nikkei Asia

Furniture can be a tricky thing to get in Japan, but fear not! Nitori is the Japanese home-grown version of Ikea, minus the delicious Swedish foods and drinks. They have goods for every room in the home, new appliances, sheets, and more!

Hard Off - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Hard Off by Hardoff .co.jp

If you’re more into second-hand goods, Hard Off is a great place to go. You can get lightly used furniture and appliances for a pretty decent price, as well as delivery options. Treasure Factory (Tre Fac) is another second-hand shop where you can get furniture and appliances, so be on the lookout for those!

Treasure Factory - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Treasure Factory by TreasureFactory.jp JP

NOTE: These also have spinoff shops where you can buy other secondhand goods, such as clothing (Off House and Treasure Factory Style (Tre Fac Style), respectively).

Of course, Japan also has Ikea. They’re everywhere in the Tokyo area, but a bit more sparse as you leave the metropolis area.

Home Goods

Don’t need furniture, but just need miscellaneous things? Like bowls, plates, flatware, sheets, TVs, and so on? Well, if you’re a fan of Walmart, Target, Wilko, or whatever your standard good store is where you’re from, Japan has some nice choices to fill the void.

Tokyu Hands - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Tokyu Hands via TokyuHands.co.jp

First is Tokyu Hands. This chain is everywhere, usually in larger buildings with multiple floors of goods. You can get kitchen goods, bathroom goods, toys, art supplies, and more! Look for their iconic green logo and you’ll know you’re in for some nice houseware shopping.

Viva Home - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Super Viva Home by VivaHome Corporation

Another chain, Viva Home (also Super Viva Home and Super Viva Home Plus) has lots of home goods as well as a nice DIY/home improvement department, gardening department, and even a pet department (some even have pets available to buy!). So, if you need tools or more home repair items, or you want to get some planters and special soil, Viva Home has you covered.

Lastly, the wildcard: Don Quijote (Donki). This shop is mayhem, for better and for worse. It has… just a load of odds and ends, a grocery department, bicycles and fitness gear, and even an adult section where you can get toys, videos, and more. These tend to be very claustrophobic and loud, oh so loud, so be warned: It’s not for the faint of heart. But they do scratch that chaotic Japanese pop-culture chaos itch that you may be seeking. Check out this excellent (albeit quite old!) video from Abroad in Japan for some more insights:

Food and Groceries

Kaldi Coffee Farm - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Kaldi Coffee Farm via Matcha

If you want some good coffee bean varieties and a treasure trove of international food, Kaldi is the place to go! You can find these in bigger metro areas, in train stations, shopping streets, and shopping centers across Japan.

Seijo Ishii - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Seijo Ishii via SunshineCity.jp

Seijo Ishii is another good option for foreign foods. You can find some good vegan products here, like vegan cheese, yogurt, and milk, a good selection of snacks and candies, as well as some nice cured meats for the omnivores out there.

Yamaya - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Yamaya via Yamaya.jp

Lastly, there’s also Yamaya, which is a liquor store. It has a great selection of beers, wines, and spirits, both domestic and international. They also have a small grocery section in each store, where you can get nice tea, muesli, canned foods, and more.

That being said, the prices here can range from not bad to very expensive, depending on the product you’re trying to buy. Seijo Ishii is typically higher priced than most grocery stores, so only buy your staples here if this is the only place you can find them.

Clothing

Here’s the elephant in the room: Japanese people are pretty compact compared to their western counterparts. This can mean difficulty finding clothing and shoes that actually fit your body. The two best chains for finding basics you can fit into without much difficulty are GU and Uniqlo.

Uniqlo via Live Japan

Uniqlo is a fast-fashion Japanese chain. They have a lot of seasonal and collaborative collections you can choose from, as well as specialty clothing, like menstruation underwear for women, warm undergarments, and dry-tech clothing to keep you cool in the sticky Japanese summers.

GU - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
GU via Izumi.jp

GU is in the same corporate family as Uniqlo, but they are considered the more affordable, low-budget cousin to Uniqlo. Clothing is very inexpensive here, and when it goes on sale, you can get some insanely good deals. The clothing tends to be very neutral and basic, so if you’re looking for a big flashy variety, this isn’t the place to go. Still, they have a great variety of bigger sizes that may be difficult to find at smaller boutique clothing shops.

Electronics

Yodobashi Camera - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Yodobashi Camera via Tokyo Cheapo

Looking for phones, laptops, cameras, TVs, and all that techno-goodness? The first store that popped into mind is Yodobashi Camera, a huge retailer across the country. These shops are massive, multi-story shops with electronics, cables, adapters, and more. They also have a section for gaming, so you can get your Nintendo and Playstation games here as well (Sorry XBox fans, that brand has virtually no presence in the country).

Nojima - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Nojima via Nikkei Asia

Similarly, you can visit Nojima, which is a smaller, more compact version of Yodobashi and includes things like AC units, washing machines, fans, and portable heaters.

I’m sure I’ve missed some, but these should be good enough to get you started!

If you’re in Japan, what chains did I miss that you think others should be made aware of? Drop me a comment and let me know. Spread the knowledge!

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