Don Quijote is multi-armed group, one of whose enterprises is a huge chain store of the same name with over 150 premises throughout Japan, and even one or two overseas. Its merchandise range is so broad, with over 40,000 different products, that it is difficult to typify, but the company’s website describes it as “electrical appliances, miscellaneous household goods, food, watches and fashion-related merchandise, sporting goods and leisure products, DIY products and other items.”
Don Quijote stores' hours are typically very long, with many open 24 hours. Most stores sell duty-free goods for foreign shoppers and offer credit card facilities. A Don Quijote store can be found in almost any busy, not-too-upmarket shopping area and are as thronged with customers as they are densely chock-a-block with merchandise.
Don Quijote suffered a spate of arson attacks in 2003, with the worst, in its Urawa-Kagetsu outlet on Dec. 13, 2004, killing three employees. A 49 year old woman was convicted in 2007 and jailed for life for starting the fire, as well as fires in other stores that were not big enough, however, to prove fatal.
Don Quijote stores were criticized in the wake of the arson attack for a cluttered layout that made aisles very difficult to navigate, blocked fire exits, and generally made escape next to impossible. Nevertheless, looking at a Don Quijote store today shows that nothing has been learned. The Don Quijote store in Shinjuku, for example, is so jammed with goods that elevator doors are half blocked, and visibility - let alone access to fire escapes - is zero.
I was immediately wary of going any deeper into the Don Quijote Shinjuku East Exit Head Store, let alone upstairs, on my very first visit - even before I knew anything of the chain’s history of fire disaster. It doesn't take much imagination - it stares you in the face. It reminds me of the story of the story behind the automatic revolving door at Roppongi Hills that had a sensor set too high up to detect the presence of young children. On March 26, 2004 a 6 year old boy was crushed to death in it - after no less than 32 similar non-fatal incidents had been documented by the owner of Roppongi Hills, Mori Building Co. since the opening of the building.
Japan is safe on the face of it, but dangers do lurk. As fun as the Don Quijote experience of getting totally lost in goods may be, it has already proven deadly and the company shows little interest in preventing it from happening again.