Like many people who immigrated to Japan, for my first few weeks in the country, almost every day involved a trip to the local 100 yen shop. Setting up a new home requires a big investment of time and money, but at the very least, in Japan you can largely outfit your kitchen with a handful of 100-yen (US $1) coins.
And it’s not just dishes and silverware you can pick up on the cheap, but a variety of handy things to make your home life easier, as featured in a recent ranking of the top 10 convenient items from the 100 yen shop.
The list comes courtesy of talk show Mihane-ya. After visiting Daiso, Japan’s largest and most well-known 100 yen shop, and rival chain Can Do, Mihane-ya compiled its list of the five most convenient products from each store.
Can Do #5 – Egg Timer
Sandwiches in Japan aren’t really considered well-made until you throw in a few slices of hard-boiled egg. Medium-boiled eggs are a must for a proper bowl of ramen, and soft-boiled eggs are often cracked over rice. Is there a way to make sure you cook each for just the right amount of time? And since this is Japan, is there a way to do that while being cute?
Of course there is. Just toss Can Do’s egg timer into the pot with your eggs, wait for the color on the outer edges to change from yellow to white, and pull the eggs out when the white area indicates the firmness you want.
Can Do #4 – Dokodemo Cap
In Japan, seasonings such as sugar and salt are often sold in soft, plastic pouches. This makes them light and easy to carry as you walk home from the supermarket, but if you’re pouring the sugar directly from the bag into your coffee, you’re liable to get as much on your floor as in your cup.
The Dokodemo (Japanese for “anywhere”) Cap solves this problem by letting you fuse a closeable pouring cap right onto the end of the bag.
Can Do #3 – Iron Mitt
Unfortunately, this is not a special catcher’s mitt for playing baseball with your robot friends. It is, however, something a little more practical.
In Japan, a lot of ironing boards are just that: boards. Less-expensive models lack legs and sit flat on the floor. While this takes up less space, being unable to drape your clothes over the edge of the board makes it difficult to get at the smaller tucks and folds. The Iron Mitt turns you hand into a stiff, flat surface so you can iron your jacket or slacks while they’re on a hanger without singing yourself in the process.
Can Do #2 – Pillow Dryer
Technically this is the Chikaratzuyoi (Strong) Pillow Dryer. Japanese homes don’t include separate fixtures to hook up both a washing machine and a dryer, so unless you want to spring for a two-in one washer/dryer, you have to hang your wet clothes outside. But while it’s easy to clip a couple of clothes pins around a pair of jeans, hanging up a pillow to dry after washing is a far trickier task. This is where the Pillow Dryer comes in. It’s like a hammock for your pillow, and really, after gently cradling your head all night, doesn’t it deserve a little rest and relaxation too?
Can Do #1 – Rice Washing Stirrer
In Japanese, this goes by the more elegant name kome togi. No matter what you call it, it saves you the trouble of having to stir the rice with your bare hands as you wash it before you toss it in the rice cooker. This makes it perfect for people who have delicate skin, just got a fashionable manicure, or don’t feel like splurging for pre-washed rice (i.e. the kind of people who are looking to save money by shopping at 100 yen shops).
Daiso #5 – Handy Sealer
We’ve all been there. After a hard day at the office, you stop by the grocery store to pick up a carton of milk, then give in to temptation and walk out with a bag of wasabi beef potato chips. You rush home and make your way through half the bag before you realize your eyes were bigger than your belly, but it’d be a waste to throw the rest away, and tying the bag up with a plastic twisty never seals in the flavor.
It’s for times like this that the Handy Sealer exists. Pop in a couple of batteries (unfortunately sold separately), and the heat produced by this little gadget reseals your chips or candy for you to enjoy another day.
Daiso #4 – Lemon Juicer
Lemon juice always seems more flavorful when it’s freshly squeezed, but with a conventional juicer, first you have to slice the lemon in half, then grind out the juice and remove the seeds before pouring out the liquid. Daiso’s Lemon Juicer sidesteps all of those intermediary steps by allowing you to stab the apparatus directly into the bottom of the lemon, and then squeeze the fruit itself to spray out the juice.
Daiso #3 – Microwave Ramen Cooker
While Japan has an astounding number of instant ramen varieties that come in Styrofoam cups that you pour hot water into, the noodles never seem to come out tasting quite as good those sold in packs that you toss in a pot and boil. Unfortunately, this more involved process means a longer wait. Unless, that is, you happen to be using Daiso’s Microwave Ramen Cooker. Pour in the necessary amount of water, add the noodles, pop the whole thing in the microwave, and you’re good to go. You can even eat out of the bowl-shaped container, giving you one less dish to wash.
Daiso #2 – Kawa In! Peeler
The excited mishmash of Japanese and English in the product name refers to how the skin (kawa) of the vegetables you’re peeling are kept in the box attached to the bottom of the peeler. This is especially handy in Japan since few homes here have garbage disposals, meaning that any wet, grimy trimmings in the sink have to be scooped out by hand and tossed in the trash instead.
Daiso #1 – Kotokoto-kun
Finally, we come to Daiso’s Kotokoto-kun, which roughly translates to “Simmer Kid.” Frankly, we’re not sure what else to call it, since we’ve never seen something quite like it.
As the English instructions on the package say, all you have to do is drop Kotokoto-kun at the bottom of a cooking pot, and it’ll keep the contents from boiling over. This is an extremely handy thing to have in the kitchen, since as we know a watched pot never boils, but an unwatched pot always makes a mess.
We’re unsure of just exactly how Kotokoto-kun works, so we’re forced to assume it’s magic. So as today’s counterpoint to the popular image that everything in Japan is expensive, apparently you can buy witchcraft here for just 100 yen.