Annals of cheap: Takeya
The discount behemoth Takeya, located near Okachimachi Station, may not be the cheapest place to buy anything you want, but it’s probably the cheapest place to buy everything you want. Comprising half a dozen purple-painted buildings clustered together along Showa-dori, the store gets by on volume and an almost neurotic obsession with using space effectively.
The food sections, which take up the bottom floors of two neighboring buildings, are usually impossible to move through, since the aisles barely accommodate two bodies standing abreast of each other. And when the buses discharge the Asian tourists, as they do several times a day, the place turns into writhing mass of nylon-coated humanity, reaching and pushing and grunting and paying. The announcement are provided in Japanese, Chinese and Korean. No English. They know who shops there.
There’s more: all the electronics you can think of short of computers; expensive leathers and high fashion at discount prices; four floors of furniture; a full liquor store that charges the lowest prices in town; a huge pet store set right next to a full-service bicycle shop; cosmetics and drugs and stationery. There’s even a jewelry store.
The sidewalks surrounding the buildings and the alleys between them are stacked with merchandise and clogged with carts filled with stock, all ready to be moved in when the shelves empty, which they do with head-spinning rapidity. A lot of other retailers use public space like this, and it’s clearly illegal. One hates to imagine what would happen if a fire broke out.
One time I was looking through the rice cracker collection outside and overheard a man in a suit berating an employee about the way the merchandise blocked the sidewalk, in particular the raised yellow tiles that blind people use to navigate the streets of Tokyo. The employee nodded and bowed. The guy was absolutely right, though he must have understood nothing would be done. Two policemen were standing nearby, in earshot of the conversation, checking out the rice crackers themselves.
The prices are insanely low, and Takeya’s point card is something of a joke, though almost everyone who shops there has one because if you shop there, you shop there all the time. Every thousand yen earns you one point. One point equals one yen, which would be nothing anywhere else but the points do add up because Takeya is all about volume, a strategy that can only succeed in this part of town thanks to the store’s ingenious utilization of space.