Japan's retail chain Daiso founder Hirotake Yano who founded retail chain Daiso behind the 100-yen shop, Japan’s equivalent of the dollar store has died on February 12 of heart failure. He was 80. Image Credit: AP

TOKYO: Hirotake Yano, who founded the retail chain Daiso known for its 100-yen shops, Japan’s equivalent of the dollar store, has died. He was 80.

Yano died February 12 of heart failure, Daiso Industries Co. said in a statement Monday.

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Founding Daiso

After graduating from Tokyo's Chuo University in 1967, Yano worked different jobs - including running his father-in-law's fishery until it went bankrupt - before he started hawking goods from the back of a truck in 1972.

That gave him the idea of charging a flat 100 yen for all his merchandise to save the time it took to attach the price tags. He incorporated Daiso, which translates to "creating something big," in 1977.

The company became successful as stagnant wages and a sputtering economy led Japanese consumers to look for goods that fetch better value for their money. The business model has also become popular in other countries.

The discount retailer began working with 100 yen stores in the 1980s and opened its first under the Daiso name in 1991. The company now runs more than 5,000 shops in 26 nations and regions. They raked in more than 580 billion yen ($4 billion) in sales in the latest fiscal year.

One hundred yen is equivalent to about 67 American cents at current exchange rates. Not all items cost just 100 yen. Some are double or more that price, but all are relatively affordable.

Closely held Daiso, with revenue of 589.1 billion yen ($3.9 billion) in the year ended February 2023, had 4,360 domestic stores and 990 overseas locations by the end of December, according to its website.

The stores carry some 76,000 products, Daiso says, ranging from stationery items and kitchen sponges to stuffed animals, housewares, cosmetic and hair care products, and food items such as nuts and dried fruit.

The 100-yen man

Yano, a graduate of Tokyo's Chuo University, was both hailed and criticized as “the 100-yen man.” The popularity of the shops is seen as a reflection of Japan’s deflationary woes. But the model of selling just about everything at one price was a hit.

Yano argued the concept would spur consumer spending, make shopping fun, and contribute to Japan’s economic growth.

He was said to be prone to self-deprecating jokes.

“I like to tell people it’s fortunate to have bad luck. If you are too lucky, you tend to start losing your strengths,” he told Diamond, a Japanese business magazine.

“You work harder if you see yourself as a person without luck or talent. That’s who I am,” he said.

Following nationwide expansion in Japan, the first Daiso abroad opened in Taiwan in 2001. A Daiso opened in South Korea later that same year.

The first Daiso in the U.S. opened in 2005, in Seattle. Now, there are Daiso shops in Hawaii and New York. Its global expansion has reached Brazil, the UAE and Australia.

Yano stepped down as president of Daiso in 2018, and as chairman a year later.

A private funeral was held for family. A commemorative event is in the works, but details were still undecided, said Daiso.

“We deeply appreciate all your kindness to him,” it said.