Shopping Spotlight: Village Vanguard
People talk about ‘weird Japan’. You know the stuff. Pachinko places, conveyor belt sushi restaurants, department stores that feel like entire cities. Village Vanguard stores make the whole rest of Japan look like the most sensible place on earth.
(Image credits: the Village Vanguard online shop and VV on Twitter.)
Not the jazz club, okay?
We have the word ‘zakka’ in Japanese. 雑貨. It means ‘misc items’.
Importantly, it doesn’t mean ‘junk’.
Shops that call themselves ‘zakka’ are more or less saying ‘we sell everything’. Home stuff, accessories, fun and weird things, lifestyle products, gag toys and costumes, plants – whatever your life’s missing. Once you get inside a zakka, you’ll realise your life’s been missing stuff you had no idea you needed.
Zakka have started to spread outside Japan. You can find them in Hong Kong now. And the idea’s starting to catch on in the UK. No denying they’re popular.
But not all zakka are created equal. To call Village Vanguard a plain old ‘zakka’ would be an insult.
It’s otaku paradise. Shopping roulette. The Japan lover’s mecca. A packed wonderland for all things kawaii, crazy, and convenient. Kinda like those department stores that need their own postcode.
Riots in the library
What brings people to ‘Exciting Book Store’ Village Vanguard?
Almost everything except the books.
You’ll need to look hard to find the literature section, anyway. In most Village Vanguards, it’s hidden away at the back. And if you don’t get distracted by anything else on the way, you’re not human. On the online shop, the ‘accessories’ category has over 8,000 items.
To tell the truth, the best way to experience VV is to go in with no idea what you’ll find.
The trademark yellow cards next to most things give you a hint. They’re often written (and decorated) by the shop staff. Cross your fingers and hope they’ve got good handwriting.
Like a kid in a candy shop
Something you’ll always find in a Village Vanguard is sugar. Lots of it.
Try the sweets at your own risk. They’re mainly joke flavours and gag candy. Like galaxy lollipops, cat-shaped dissolving sugar cubes (nyan!) and candy that looks like body parts. Gag.
Chocolates and snacks are pretty popular – not as mad popular as the weird-tasting ramen packs, but close. Ever tried Tabasco chocolate before?
Some of the other types will have you crying before you start eating. Like the milk chocolate bar with an inspirational quote from Dr. Seuss printed on the back. Makes a change from green eggs and ham, right?
Dude, no, not that kind of adult store
A lot of the stuff that looks like it’s for kids… isn’t. That weird-shaped thing that says ‘handheld massager’ on the pack? It wasn’t designed to solve your back problems. Put it down and back away, quick.
(And before you ask, yep, they’ve got that super popular ‘virgin killer’ sweater dress.)
Okay, it’s not all scandalous. The ‘over 18 only’ curry is only ‘risky’ if you can’t handle spice. We’ve also heard of a limited-edition Valentine’s ‘sweet and pain’ chocolate version. Never been happier to miss out on something.
Aside from ‘grown-up dining’, cosplay’s obviously part of the adult section in every Village Vanguard. Mix your gamer and ‘game for anything’ sides with skimpy, sexy 8-bit pixel underwear. In colours like ‘Game Boy Grey’, ‘Kirby Pinky’, ‘Yoshi Green’, ‘Ms Pac Yellow’, or ‘Classic Pong White’.
“Hey baby, is that a joystick in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” – Wear/compliment those pixel-perfect undies at your own risk.
Up all year to get lucky
We also head to Village Vanguard every January for the ‘fukubukuro’ – New Year’s lucky dip sale bags. They’re a firm Japanese tradition. Pick a random bag, hand over money, and hope you’ve won something good. Some shops show you what’s in the bag first. Spoilsports. We prefer being completely surprised – or disappointed – by what we get.
2017’s lucky bags had a crazy design.
They were colour-coded on the sides. Our yellow one was ‘totally 100% lucky dip’. No guarantee you’d get any particular type of items – or that they’d be any good.
Our luck was crappy this year. Thanks, year of the Rooster.
What we thought was a full bag was a kinda empty bag made heavy by a padded storage box. The green Minecraft-inspired cardboard box got chucked out straight away. The mini Star Wars post-its were not sticky. We were proud of the cast iron skiddle and gratin dish, for about 30 seconds. And then we got on Twitter and saw that basically everyone else got them too.
Hopefully we’ll have better luck next year. (You bet we’re going back for the 2018 lucky bags.) But keeping our fingers crossed until January’s gonna make it hard to type.
Show ‘em your money
Village Vanguard happily accepts international credit and debit cards. Because they know once you’re in, you’re gonna spend more than you thought.
Online, you get the option to pay at a convenience store or on delivery. How many companies outside Japan would trust you with that?
Village Vanguard’s Japan branches and online shop
Within Japan, there are VV stores all over the place. Including on Hokkaido and Okinawa. We’ve been to shops in Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka so far. Click on ‘overseas’ on the shop finder, and… it’s empty. So much for that.
The Japanese online store is a bit easier to ‘wander’ around. There’s no option for international delivery, so you might need some help with that one.