Japan has a bit of a reputation for being the home of all things weird and wacky. You know that. Your mum knows that. The reptilian aliens secretly controlling all of our governments know that. It’s a thing none of us question. Japan: good food, sick nature, a bit odd.
Chances are, if you’re visiting Japan, you’re going to want to bring some weird souvenirs back. But where does one begin? Sure, you could find endless arrays of weird specialty stores, corner shops, and hidden boutiques. But if you’re in a pinch for time, or just a sucker for convenience, there are two places you’ll want to check out: Don Quijote and Village Vanguard.
Both are pretty much your one-stop shops for all things bizarre and unusual—perfect spots for souvenirs really. Honestly though, souvenirs? In this economy?! Yeah right.
Well, to prove that even the penny conscious among us can return from Japan with a big ol bag of gifts and weird shit for our pals back home, Tokyo Survival Channel challenged me to go to both stores and see how far I could stretch a 10,000 yen note. And just to up the stakes a little, I had a 60-minute time limit for each store. Let the games begin.
First up, the weird blue penguin store. According to Wikipedia, who has yet to lie to me, Don Quijote has 322 stores worldwide, most of which are in Japan. You can usually spot ‘em from a mile away thanks to the blue penguin who usually hangs out displayed somewhere near the entrance of every store. He is not to be trusted.
Shiba plush: ¥1,380
As soon as I enter the store I spot them. Lil soft Shibas. I know just the perfect little person who would love one of these.
My youngest niece approves.
Pokémon face mask: ¥430
Japan is full of weird novelty face masks. You can find a face mask of pretty much anything—especially minions, Japan loves minions. Luckily, no minion masks here. Did snag a sick Snorlax mask for my girlfriend though
Matcha Kit Kat: ¥298
You can’t leave Japan without picking up a few matcha Kit Kats. It was nice to see that this mainstay in Japanese souvenirs has recently developed an eco-conscience by ditching plastic packaging. Really nice touch to match their really nice flavour. Really nice.
Fruity canned mystery alcohol: ¥588
General rule of thumb, you can’t really go wrong when you see a bright coloured can in the alcohol section of any store in Japan. You never really know what you’re getting, but you can bet your house it will get you fucked up. I brought a six-can variety pack back home to my 18 year old sister. Her verdict: “Some were nice… some were so bad I died.”
Mini Baby Beers!: ¥568
Plato once said, it was a wise man who invented beer. Well, it was an even wiser man who put beer in tiny lil baby cans. What a time to be alive. I brought ten home to give out to various friends, mini beers = guaranteed crowd pleasers.
Choco Brownie & Black Thunder fun packs: ¥298 each
There ain’t no better snacks in Japan than Black Thunder chocolate bars. Though to refer to them merely as chocolate bars feels denigrating. Black Thunder is more experience than a chocolate bar, it’s just—it’s something else entirely. Fucking hell. Also, whilst we’re on the subject, Choco Brownies ain’t no slouches either. Jesus Christ they’re up there man, they’re up there. God tier the lot of ‘em.
You get about 15 little bars in each pack, which ensured I could give a fair few away upon arriving in Australia. The masses agree: Black Thunder is a god amongst chocolate bars.
Meiji macadamia chocolate thingos: ¥168
Look, I know this isn’t the wackiest entry on the list, but what they lack in novelty they make up for in sheer excellence. These lil chocolate bites are definitely sprinkled with heroin before being shipped off from the Meiji factory. There’s no other way to explain how addictive they are.
Boss Rainbow Mountain Blend: ¥358
Rainbow Boss. The best Boss coffee. No contest. Next.
Liver drink: ¥278
Here’s an interesting thing I discovered while living in Japan. You drink one of these before a night on the piss and, supposedly, your hangover the next day is nowhere near as intense as it would’ve been. I don’t really understand the science behind it. I don’t want to know honestly. Just drink the magic liver drink. It’s best not to ask questions.
Apple coke: ¥98
Apple flavoured coke. The Japanese are years ahead of us.
Cat hat: ¥498
A hat for your cat! Years ahead of us. My housemate’s cat, Hennesy, wasn’t too keen on wearing it though. He’s a man of expensive tastes.
Anti-snore strip: ¥798
Finally. The solution to all my problems. I picked up one of these game-changers and gave it to my girlfriend for Christmas. It goes well with her Snorlax face mask.
Chocolate rolling tobacco: ¥740
Chocolate darts. Do I need to say more?
Beer toe socks: ¥398
These are the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. I’m wearing them as we speak.
Lady Pee Soda: ¥195
Ayyy there’s the weird Japan we know and love. Sorry to disappoint you incels, it’s not actually lady pee, it’s some type of cider made from natural spring water. Tastes a bit like Red Bull, but better. Into it.
It’s beyblade, beybladeeeeeeee. Boom, right in the childhood. How could I not buy one? I’m saving this to gift to my first born. Hopefully in the distant future.
Dinosaur egg: ¥298
I don’t know what this is, but I like dinosaurs, and I assume this grows a dinosaur. Copped.
Psyduck nanoblocks: ¥1,080
Nanoblocks are the thinking man’s lego. Psyduck is the thinking man’s Pokémon. With time running out, I grabbed this absolute gem and darted for the register…
Home Boy: ¥3,980
I have no fucken clue what it is, but I really wanted a Home Boy, but alas, it was way over my budget. I’ll come back for you Home Boy, one day.
Don Quijote Wrap-up
Time spent: 57 minutes
Money spent: ¥10,049 (I know, I know. I’m ¥49 over. Sue me.)
Village Vanguard, where do I begin? It’s certainly a little more “indie” than Donki (the common abbreviation for Don Quijote used colloquially in Japan). A little more hidden, a little more “cool”. Donki is full of tourists, Vanguard less so. Donki is loud, begging for your attention, Vanguard doesn’t care if you shop there. You get the point. Let’s get into it.
These little chocolate mushroom biscuits are known as Kinoko no yama in Japan. They’re up there with Black Thunder when it comes to god-tier Japanese snacks. The best time you’ll have on mushrooms.
Craft beer body wash: ¥880
You know that feeling when you’re drinking a beer and you think wow, I wish I could smell like this? Yeah same. Guess dreams do come true.
What’s a Smiski? It’s the question on everybody’s lips. What’s its purpose? What’s he done? Who you hiding from, Smiski? All valid questions—all questions we’ll never have answered.
How existential. I didn’t buy this
Simpson’s cookies: ¥320
A milk carton filled with the cookiefied heads of our favourite animated family. What’s not to love? I took these home where they were distributed at random to everyone at my New Years’ Eve party and eaten right after midnight. I got Lisa. Yuck.
Oshidori Milk Cake: ¥220
What you expect and what you get are two vastly different things when it comes to Oshidori Milk Cakes. I shared these with a few mates back home and the reactions were all the same: eating these; it’s just a weird time. When you first put one in your mouth you’re expecting it to be soft, but it’s not, it’s kind of chalky. The first few chews aren’t pleasant, but then there’s a sweet spot in the middle—hey, you think, these are actually pretty good. But then you do your final chews and swallow and it’s downhill again. Are Oshidori Milk Cakes nice? Do they suck? Nobody can truly say.
Sudden Death sauce: ¥930
There are about 78 different types of hot sauce available at Village Vanguard. Okay perhaps not quite that many, but fuck me, it’s more than five. Anyway, this one is the hottest in the store. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for an in-depth review.
Curiosity Cola: ¥370
Now that’s marketing.
Blood Jelly: ¥250
Discounted blood jelly. The best kind, ya love to see it.
Fat man sticker: ¥300
This fat man sticker is one of those things you never really know you need until you see it. Look at his cheeks! What a masterpiece.
Sick sweater, but at ¥5,000 yen it was way above my budget 🙁
Animal Rice Cooker Mug: ¥1,800
I picked this up and put it down a few times as I walked around the maze that is Village Vanguard. At ¥1,800 the price tag was a hefty chunk of my budget, yet low enough to justify consideration. Do I need an animal rice cooker mug? Does anyone? The answer is, of course, yes to both. And yet for some reason I couldn’t quite convince myself to grab it.
And then, some other snake tourist picked up the last Shiba one. And at that moment it was decided. I wanted the Shiba rice cooker. I needed it. And so I waited, like a vulture in the shadow of the next aisle, waiting… willing them to leave it alone. And they did. And that’s when I pounced. Goes to show you never really know the value of a Shiba rice cooker mug until some other jerk is about to take it from you. Print that on a Hallmark card.
Sake incense: ¥680
One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made was choosing between sake and cantaloupe incense. In the end, as always, sake prevailed.
Cat face mask: ¥300
Will you be a cat? It’s just one of those things you don’t really think about… until you do. And then, once you do, it consumes you. Think about it, Will you be a cat? Or will you be a cat? Will you be a cat?
Look, I’ve been in this store too long. I bought the damn facemask and put it in the gift bag for my gf along with the Snorlax one and the anti-snore tape. Boyfriend of the year. But will she be a cat? It’s too early to say.
Shit curry: ¥800
Hoo boy what a find. Shit curry. Literal shit flavour curry. Shit curry for pieces of shit like you, yes you reading this, you piece of shit. I can’t believe you’ve read all this way. How boring is your life? You stupid piece of shit. I bought this shit curry for you. I hope you like it.
Japanese mayo: ¥770
If you know, you know.
Liquid rice ball: ¥170
This, this does not look good. All of it is just so offensive. I imagine it something a recently divorced astronaut would eat, without gusto. There’s a hole to fill, and this ain’t it. It shouldn’t have been created, and yet it is here. And for that, I bought it. There’s a lesson in there. Somewhere.
Country Ma’am sweet potato cookies: ¥300
A steal at ¥300. Country Ma’am is yet to steer me wrong. I don’t know who country ma’am is, but they make a very delicious array of incredible pastries and cookies. And these sweet potato cookies are no exception. I bought them as a gimmick, but they’re honestly some of the best cookies I’ve ever had, I shared them with a few friends in Australia and the consensus is solid. Country Ma’am, you’ve done it again.
Cheese tea gummy: ¥200
Your guess is as good as mine. None of these three words should go together.
3x Cola roller fizz: ¥300
Whilst not exactly a strange enough item to include on its own merit—fizzy cola candy exists pretty much anywhere—it does make it on purely on the fact that I had some money to spare. I gave them to a kid standing outside the store. Joke’s on him though, I know for a fact that the fizz level on these things is a 3/10 at best.
Village Vanguard wrap-up
Time spent: 55 minutes
Money spent: ¥9,940
And just like that, two hours of the most intense shopping I’ve ever done was over. And yet, what had I gained? I sat in front of the store, lit a cigarette, and looked at my many bags of dumb souvenirs. I pondered the meaning of it all… All this stuff. And yet, was I any happier?
Absolutely. Shopping is sick.