Don Quijote, or Donki, as it is referred to by locals, is the discount megastore of your dreams.
From Tenga cups to takoyaki makers, Donki sells anything you could ever possibly need or want (and a whole lot you can’t imagine ever needing or wanting).
The discount emporium stocks everything from groceries to second-hand Louis Vuitton bags, sex toys to kitchen appliances, souvenirs, novelty socks, alcohol, beauty products, pharmaceuticals, electronics, homewares, outfits for your dog, costumes, luggage, stationary, even lipstick-shaped vibrators!
If you’re currently picturing the Japanese equivalent of Walmart or Kmart, Donki is like their eccentric cousin, who possibly took too many psychedelics in their youth. The manic, maze-like stores are a sensory overload; a musical melee of competing advertisements blasts from every corner of the store, the ever-present “don don don donki” theme song echoing through the overhead speakers. The aisles are barely wide enough to fit a shopping basket, crammed floor-to-ceiling (with some items actually suspended from the ceiling) with a seemingly infinite array of objects you never knew you needed… until now.
Often there doesn’t appear to be any particular rhyme or reason as to how the stores are organised; children’s toys will be right next to sex toys, you’ll find toothpaste in the electronics section, but not the beauty aisle… However, this haphazard merchandising is no mistake, rather than the result of lazy shoppers putting things back in random places, everything in Donki is there for a reason.
A distinct contrast to typical Japanese stores, which prioritise minimalism, organisation and efficiency, Donki has been described by retail experts as a “jungle,” “hoarder’s paradise”, even a “fire hazard,” due to its chaotic layout and overwhelmingly immense inventory.
Donki’s founder, Takao Yasuda said while Japanese retail was built on the concept of saving time, Don Quijote encouraged consumers to take their time and browse. Yasuda likened the Donki shopping experience to a “treasure hunt,” saying that it was intentionally “hard to find, hard to take and hard to buy” items. This way, “Shoppers always leave the store feeling they missed something. And they discover something new every time they visit,” he said.
The franchise was named after the literary character, Don Quixote of Miguel de Cevantes Saavedra’s famous novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Like the book’s protagonist, an aristocrat who defies society’s conventions by trying to bring back chivalry and knighthood, setting out on a quest to become a hero. Donki, the store, similarly aims to be unconventional and rule-breaking, leaving traditional retail in its dust.
Donki claims to stock over 45,000 products, and they’re famous for their “compressed displays” (read: overstocked and chaotic), translating to an utterly overwhelming retail experience. Store layouts are designed to be as illogical and confusing as possible, to maximise the time shoppers spend in there (and subsequently the amount of random crap they acquire).
Avoid entering with a shopping list or time limitation, the more specific your needs are, the more frustrating and overwhelming your shopping experience will be! I once spent 20 minutes searching for toothpaste, and when I eventually found some, ended up accidentally buying the peach flavour, thinking it was the only one there. The next time I was in the store, I found an entire shelf of different toothpastes, in a corner of the store I hadn’t even known existed…
As the stores have no external windows, it can be easy to completely lose track of time. I once missed the last train home because I got so caught up in perusing the oddities on offer, wandering in at 11.00pm, then suddenly realising it was well after 1.00am!
Central city locations are open 24/7, 365 days a year, with even Donki’s smallest suburban branches open as late as 3am. The ideal conditions for a drunken shopping trip on the way home from a night out, so prepare to wake up with a bizarre assortment of intoxicated impulse buys!
Late on a Saturday night, especially at the Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi branches, you can often spot girls using the beauty samples to freshen up before embarking on their evening adventures. Covering all bases from a quick dinner, to a new lipstick, fresh socks and a Strong Zero for the road, Donki is your one-stop pre-party stop!
A trip to Donki is more like visiting an amusement park than a department store, to the extent that the Osaka Dotombori store even has a ferris wheel, and the Asakusa branch features in-house karaoke facilities and a musical theatre! The Akihabara store, situated in Tokyo’s nerd culture, or otaku area boasts an arcade and maid cafe on the fifth floor, as well as a theatre dedicated to J-pop girl group AKB 48, featuring daily performances from the group, so popular that tickets can only be obtained through a lottery.
A roller coaster was constructed on the roof of the Roppongi branch in 2006, but due to neighbours’s concerns about the noise, spectacle and crowds it would create, was never functional. The structure has since been removed.
Some stores even have in-house restaurants and takeaway food counters, with the Shibuya Mega Store popular for selling unusual street foods, like sweet potato ice cream sandwiches. The eight-storey Asakusa store has four different restaurants to satisfy shopper’s cravings, offering everything from curry to Italian food, Kobe beef and an all-you-can-eat buffet serving a variety of Japanese dishes.
Unlike most retail chains, Don Quijote’s stock offering varies hugely between stores, tailored to the location and its individual clientele. For example, the Shibuya Mega store sells many souvenirs, as well as beauty products and snacks aimed at teenagers, due to the area’s popularity with tourists and young people. Similarly, the Akihabara store offers an extensive selection of manga and anime goods.
One consistency at every store, other than general chaos, is a huge fish tank, featuring an exotic assortment of tropical fish, to lure in curious passersby. Some even have giant eels!
Ever found yourself at the end of a trip, with a mile-long list of friends and family expecting gifts, but barely enough yen left for a bowl of ramen? Never fear, Don Quijote is here.
Donki is the perfect place to pick up all of your souvenirs at a cheaper rate than at tourist attractions or designated souvenir stores. In particular, licensed merchandise such as Studio Ghibli products are cheaper than at the official store or Ghibli museum.
They sell a variety of Japanese sweets, from the ubiquitous Tokyo Banana to the more traditional wagashi, mochi and daifuku, already gift-wrapped and ready to be taken home. One of Donki’s most popular souvenirs is their extensive range of Japanese Kit Kat flavours, including wasabi, yam, sake, rum and raisin, matcha, passionfruit, strawberry cheesecake, apple vinegar, adzuki bean sandwich and baked potato (which the packaging recommends you actually bake).
As well as as edible souvenirs, Don Quijote offers a range of keepsakes at various price points, from sushi key rings for a couple of coins, to rare whiskeys that’ll drain your savings account.
All Don Quijote stores have tax-free counters for purchases over 50,000 yen, which waive the 10% consumption tax. This includes consumable goods such as cosmetics, food and alcohol, on the provisor that they are not to be consumed in Japan. These will be sealed in a special tax-free bag, and if opened before you leave the country, there is a chance that you will be charged 10% tax at the airport.
Travellers can even have their tax-free shopping sent directly to the airport! All Donki stores have ATMs, and many even offer foreign currency registers, accepting seven international currencies, including US dollars, Euros, Chinese yuan and Hong Kong dollars.
Most Don Quijote stores have curtained-off sex toy sections, stocking some of the most truly bizarre contraptions I have ever seen. Penis-shaped water pistols, four-litre tubs of lube, vibrators shaped like tentacles, a dispenser where you can put a coin in and receive a “lucky dip” sex toy… I could go on all day. Next time you’re grabbing bread and milk at Donki, be sure to give this aisle a quick browse, it’ll provide enough comedic content for your next three nights out.
Almost as weird are the products on the other side of the curtain, with Tenga, one of Japan’s biggest sex toy companies, often monopolising a large section of every Donki store with its massive displays. The infamous Tenga cup is arguably the most popular sex toy in Japan, a tubular “masturbation aid” that aims to mimic, uh, sex.
Worldwide, a Tenga product is sold every 4.5 seconds, with Japan accounting for about 70% of sales. Tenga is so ubiquitous within Japan, known for its iconic red and white striped products, that when Coca Cola released a red bottle with white stripes, it was mistaken by many as a Tenga promotion.
Why these are considered suitable to be out in the open, whereas boob-shaped stress balls are hidden within the R-18 section, I truly do not know.
Possibly the strangest place in the world to purchase a Hermes handbag, Don Quijote stocks a range of outlet-priced new and second hand designer accessories, sunglasses and jewellery. Almost half of Donki’s inventory is leftover goods other retails couldn’t sell, so they purchased at a reduced rate (hence why they’re able to flog them so cheaply).
Although their designer outlet section only offers items marginally cheaper than at traditional stores, some of their second hand goods can be total steals, keep an eye out for the vintage Louis Vuitton luggage sets!
Discount store Vivienne Westwood? As seen abandoned in a grocery aisle at Don Quijote, evidently someone had to make some very difficult decisions…
Groceries from Don Quijote are usually cheaper than supermarkets and depachika (department store food markets), particularly fresh produce and liquor. Be sure to check out their produce clearance section for great deals on products like tomatoes, fresh herbs, grapes and avocados, which can be surprisingly pricey in Japan! Larger Donki stores, particularly the Mega stores, have kitchens onsite which prepare deli items like salads, bento boxes and sushi, of a similar quality to supermarkets and convenience stores, but significantly cheaper. If you swing by in the evenings, these premade products will often be discounted further.
Many locations stock a range of Western grocery items, like muesli, salsa, granola bars, chilli sauce, organic peanut butter and tahini. They also carry some vegan and gluten-free products, including falafel, hummus and energy bars, which are expensive and difficult to find elsewhere.
Popsy sperm shots
These bizarrely-packaged tipples contain a vanilla and caramel-flavoured cream liqueur, a perfect party favour for any hen’s do!
Placenta and Vitamin C lip essence
Promising to deliver (excuse the pun) supple and moisturised lips, this product by Japanese beauty giant Ainz Tulpe is super popular! While the idea of slathering placenta on your face may be off-putting to some readers, it is a fairly common ingredient in Japanese beauty products, applauded for its anti-ageing properties. If the famously flawless skin possessed by many Japanese women is anything to go by, could be worth a try?
A four litre flagon of Suntory whisky for less than $60 USD
Unfortunately this super-sized bottle won’t make it back through customs to literally anywhere, but it is a surefire way to make friends at any party!
Ever been so hungry you’d eat a chocolate-covered scorpion? How about a grasshopper? Well, you’re in luck! Donki offers an extensive assortment of freeze-dried creepy crawlies for your snacking pleasure (or to play mean pranks on your entomophobic friends with), starting at 1100 yen for a pick ’n’ mix bag of crickets.
Eat Grub cricket protein bars
If you’re feeling conscious of your carbon footprint after a long-haul flight to Japan, these cricket-powered energy bars are an environmentally-responsible meat alternative. According to Eat Grub’s website, 1kg of insect-derived protein only creates 1g of greenhouse gas emission, compared to 2850g from 1kg of protein from beef. Still not so sure about chowing down on crickets? These could still make a unique souvenir for the gym bunny or environmental enthusiast in your life
Steaming eye mask
A self-heating eye mask which claims to provide a “steam bath for the eyes”, promising to reduce inflammation and dark circles. Cheaper than a day at the spa, could this be the affordable antidote to red-eye flights?
Character face sheet mask
Although the packaging is cute, these printed sheet masks are more likely to make you look like a horror movie villain than kawaii cartoon character..
Nose hair removal wax
Gross or genius? You be the judge…
These delightful bottle openers…
Does this even need an explanation? Hot tip: you can sometimes score two of these for the price of one at Don Quijote Roppongi, just look out for the promotional sign. Don’t say we never give you anything!
This isn’t even a fraction of the weird and wonderful wares available on offer, we didn’t even get around to mentioning the fish-shaped slides, home ear-piercing kits or a rather fetching pair of men’s boxer shorts with an elephant trunk and ears (last sighted at the Shibuya Mega Store, these babies have to be seen to be believed…)
If you’re shopping for souvenirs, then definitely a crazy flavoured Kitkat! Most of the stranger flavours are exclusive to Japan, so you can be sure you’re not getting something that your friends can find at home. For yourself, perhaps a muscat grape-flavoured Strong Zero? Alcohol is really cheap at Donki so be sure to stock up next time you’re in, you never know when the urge for a Strong Zero might occur!
You can get some surprisingly high-quality beauty products on the cheap at Donki, from reputable brands like L’Oreal and Shisedo. I have found great makeup brushes, false eyelashes and sheet masks for only a few hundred yen, a fraction of what they would cost me in New Zealand!
With over 300 branches across Japan, you’ll inevitably encounter Don Quijote store throughout your travels. Even if you can’t read kanji, they’re easy to spot- just look for Donpen, their giant blue penguin mascot!
If you are looking for the perfect souvenir, some weird gifts to surprise your friends back home or even if you just have time roaming around town and have nothing to do, definitely check out Donki and enjoy an adventure of your lifetime!