"Different things!"

In Japan a bargain is 100 yen. Here, it's all about the dollar stores. One of my favorites is Ichiban Kan in the Miyako Mall of San Francisco's Japantown. "Different things!" -- their tagline -- means just that: aisles and aisles of random stuff. All of it for $1. Okay, some things cost $1.50, and the really big ticket items can put you out $2 or more.

But where else can you find stacking pickle containers, universal pot lids, mimikaki ear cleaners complete with tickling tufts, and Hello Kitty toasters that brand her reassuring face into each slice of bread? It's like the Bargain Bank crossed with Containers and More, where the practical rubs shoulders with the utterly unnecessary.

Wander over into the pharmacy section to check out the menthol eye drops, SuperMILD shampoo, and crazy strong Biore strips. Useful gadgets that you never realized you must have can be found in the laundry and office sections. Where I spend the most time (and bucks) is, of course, in the kitchen aisles. Divided into separate displays for food prep, storage and service, this store is one place I've never left empty-handed.

Three locations in the Bay Area serve our little needs and whims:

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Ichiban Kan
22 Peace Plaza #540 (aka Geary @ Webster)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 409-0472

98 Third Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 347-1347

10562 San Pablo Ave
El Cerrito, CA 94530
(510) 528-5210


Egg forms: Simmer an egg gently for 5 minutes, peel immediately, pop it into one of these cute molds, drop into a bowl of ice water, and -- presto! -- hard-boiled eggs shaped like fish and cars.


Bag clip: How to keep your Thai beef jerky perfectly chewy.


Pretz: Crispy snacks that smell and taste exactly like French toast. Amazing.


Trays: Lots and lots of different colors and sizes.


Napkins: Bright, cheerful and not too thick.

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Lunchbox: Stacked airtight compartments, a fork, a stretchy band, and requisite Japanese-style quote: "My name is Mink.It likes reading the book of an adventure.It is excited very good."

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