Today I went to an odd little store in Cupertino called the Lychee Tree. It’s best described as a Japanese version of a dollar store. Well, more exactly, it’s Japanese plus other generic China-made oddities. This particular store has an eBay presence as the seller “japan_bargain”, which I discovered purely by accident. The eBay items are a tiny fraction of the random knickknacks found on the shelves.

We will examine a small selection of items that I purchased there. We begin with:

The Flyswatter

For whatever reason, I have been totally unsuccessful at finding a flyswatter for sale in my neck of the woods (or even on the internet). It’s a simple thing designed for a simple use: swatting flying insects. In this part of California, we have seasonal problems with populations of tiny moths, and I was delighted to discover this Japanese flyswatter at the mere price of $1.75.

The Pill Case

One of the things I really like about Japan is the attention to detail and quality in even the most trivial, everyday items. This pill case is a great example. Multiple smaller boxes in rainbow colors all fitting inside a larger, clear case with a simple plastic latch on it. I love the simplicity and attractiveness of the design. Sure, I can buy pill cases here, but they usually come in some boring uniform color, like blue or white, and typically have something pre-printed on them, such as the day of the week.

I don’t want my pill case to be marked. If I want it marked, I can put little stickers on it. Apparently the Japanese maker of this pill case thought the same. Why mess it up the aesthetic of an otherwise ordinary item that can bring a bit of color into your day?

Sugar Dog

Here we start to get a bit strange (which is part of the charm of Japanese products). This box is a general-purpose thing for storing small jewelry, beads, tiny candies, or whatever else comes to mind.

It’s the Engrish on this package that I really love. “Lovery Animal World”. I can’t help but wonder if that’s supposed to say “Lovely”. The text on the box itself is hard to read in the picture, but it says “The kind hearted blue dog with a weakness for sweets”. I guess “Sugar Dog” is an appropriate name, then. I think it also implies that this box is intended for keeping small candies close at hand. I approve of this idea.

The Ear Cleaning Sticks

Japan has cotton swabs, I know for a fact. So this is presumably intended for some other purpose. I bought them because I just had to know.

These little plastic sticks come attached on a plastic tree (like plastic model kit parts), and you twist one free to use it. What I discovered is that the business end is sticky, so I suppose it’s meant to clean the outer ear canal by grabbing onto foreign particles. It doesn’t work so well for ear wax, since ear wax resists adhering to a sticky surface, so I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this product is.

Apparently sticking it into your ear too far is contraindicated, as it is with cotton swabs. I’m not sure you could even get away with selling a product like this in the United States (the dollar store notwithstanding), because you know some moron is going to perforate their child’s eardrum with it.

The Syringe

When I first saw this item in the store, I did a double-take, because it can’t possibly be what it looks like. What is this for?

Closer examination reveals that the “needle” on this syringe is not sharp, or even pointed. It’s hollow, certainly, but you won’t be injecting any heroin with this baby.

The “needle” part screws onto the capsule firmly, which is quite a clever design since it is more water-tight than a snap-on design. I bought a blue one, but this item also was available in the store in pink.

More fabulous Engrish on the back of the package. I especially like the fact that the word “things” is hyphenated. The little diagram in the upper left looks disturbingly like a syringe pulling a dose of medication from a sealed ampoule. A closer looks, however, shows something that looks more like a fingernail polish bottle. The small text next to it says “Dropper for refilling such as perfume”.

Okay, so it’s supposed to be an eyedropper of sorts for transferring some liquid from a large container to a smaller one. The Japanese cosmetic products I saw at the store suggest that there is a big market for tiny, daily-supply containers for makeup and such, so this makes sense. I remain confused, however, about the choice of delivery vehicle for this. A syringe? Why not just an eyedropper?

Anyway, these items seemed to cry out for the “strange capitalism” tag. Japan has a product market that reflects its consumers and their culture. I’m always fascinated by the social customs revealed by products like this. I’m also fascinated by tiny containers and tiny things with moving parts, so stores like this feed some kind of personality quirk that I have. Hope you all enjoyed.

8 Responses to “Strange Capitalism: The Japanese Dollar Store”
  1. Jessica says:

    This is not an dollar store! Do not support this store! It’s Asian/Japanese are over priced and of extremem poor quality. The customer service is horrible, with short answer replies and demands.

  2. Anne Haight says:

    You need to elaborate on that, Jessica. Are you talking about their eBay business? I’ve been to the actual store in Cupertino, California. It’s about what you’d expect. I haven’t bought anything through their eBay site. Is it overpriced stuff?

  3. Linda says:

    Enjoyed reading about the items you purchased.

    An interesting fact about Japanese ears according to my kid’s pediatrican: Japanese do not have waxy inner ears. That may be the reason the “Ear Clean Sticks” are designed that way.

  4. Denise Vazquez says:

    I actually have a sort of binder that someone gave to me years ago that has the sugar dog on it, and i love that binder and have always tried to find where i can get more like them.

  5. Pat O'Brien says:

    I have been looking for the flyswatter that you have pictured at the top of your site for about a million years. Short of going to Japan do you have any idea how I can get one or twelve? I got one as a kid from my sister who was stationed in Japan while she was in the Air Force. I had it till my wife at the time threw it into the yard only to get mowed the next day as I couldn’t find it that night. I was very bummed. I have never found quite what I was looking for till I came across your site and well am just looking for some help.

    Thanks much,

    Pat

  6. Anne Haight says:

    Pat, I don’t know of an online source for them. I could go back to the store and see if they are still available, and mail you a couple if you like. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. stephl says:

    The syringe is used to transfer a liquid…like soy sauce, or vinegar, from the large jar into small squeeze bottles.

    When making bento boxes, it is nice to have a single serving of sauce….

  8. Pat O'Brien says:

    Hi Anne, funny enough I haven’t come back to you site till now to see if you responded to me. Now that I see you did and I find your offer kind and and tempting. If you are serious about seeing if you can pick some up for me, please e-mail me. I can give you my phone number and we can work out the details. thanks so much,

    Pat

Leave a Reply