I went to Japan and fell in love.
It was my first time there, and whoooooa, the place is surreal. I felt like a metal ball in a pinball machine, gleefully bouncing around amid flashing lights, bizarre corners and colorful characters. I've been back a week and already miss the food (ramen everywhere!), the kanpais, the brilliantly organized chaos.
So when I heard OC would be getting a slice of Japan in the form of Higashi-based discount retailer Daiso, I was giddy. The 11,000-square-foot superstore was unveiled April 14 in Irvine's Heritage Plaza, and I joined 4,000 others who braved the grand-opening extravaganza of the second location in Southern California.
Okay, before we continue, here's something you must know about Daiso Irvine: EVERYTHING IS A BUCK-FIFTY! (Fine print: except for a handful of items, clearly marked.) Another thing you must know? You will still spend all your money there because EVERYTHING IS ADORABLE! (Or, as the Japanese say, kawaii.)
Inside the massive, pink-walled store is, well, a whole lot of stuff. There's kitchenware (pastel popsicle molds, sushi rollers, banana cases, chicken-shaped timers, plaid bento boxes, as well as standard rice bowls, chopsticks and teapots), storage accessories (hampers, compression bags) and cleaning supplies (frog sponges, nets for hang-drying your sweaters). There's stuff for women (fake eyelashes, makeup, wigs), men (ties, argyle socks), kids (tiny erasers resembling plates of curry, Cup Noodles and mochi balls on a stick) and pets (polka-dot bowls, leashes). There are things you need in your life right this minute (slippers with microfiber dusters on the bottom so you can clean as you stroll through the house!) and things you probably don't (LED-light earwax picks, inflatable man boobs).
It's dangerously easy to toss things into your basket without guilt. ("Well, it is only $1.50.") As I fought the masses through the aisles, I started grabbing items with abandon: a charcoal facial mask! A strawberry coin bank! A soap dish shaped like a bunny! When I was finally ready to check out (basically, when my basket got too heavy), I headed to the cashier and saw that, yep, there was more. Snacks—lots of them. Japanese goodies from pastries to Pocky to sembei (rice crackers). My pile of loot grew.
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In the end, I spent $46.31 on stuff I could have lived without, but shopping for everyday goods has never been this fun. And for now, it's way cheaper than a plane ticket back to Japan.
Follow me on Twitter: @michellewoo!
This column appeared in print as "Dollar Shopping, Japan Style."