Depending on where you grew up, you may experienced something similar to what's known as a penny candy store in the US. Think cheap and cheerfully packaged sweets and other snacks, predominantly marketed to children thanks to their inexpensive price point, and you're on the right track. Japan's equivalent of this is dagashiya, and their retro-cool atmosphere can still be experienced at various places across the country.
The history of dagashiya
To cut a long story short, the history of dagashiya isn't clear. Their presence has been mentioned in literary works from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho eras (1912-1926), but most people associate their popularity with the Showa era (1926-1989). Often, these dagashiya were set up as a one-room storefront that was part of a larger residential dwelling, and they were typically located near elementary schools to cater to their target clientele.
Dagashiya in Tokyo
A Nakano gem, Gifuya is loved for its Showa-era vibes that have been likened to a time warp. From ¥10 coin-operated games to small snacks and sweets ranging from ¥10 to ¥50, this is a place where you can feel like a kid again on a minuscule budget. The store also sells cigarettes – it's a contrast to all of the stuff marketed towards the younger crew, which adds to those throwback feels.
5 Chome-44-3 Kamitakada, Nakano City, Tokyo 164-0002
Located on the grounds of Toshima's Kishimojin Temple, Kamikawaguchiya is one of the oldest dagashiya out there – even older than what's mentioned in literary works. It was founded in the Edo period, 1781 to be exact, and has been owned by 5 generations of the same family since then.
3 Chome-15-20 Zoshigaya, Toshima City, Tokyo 171-0032
With sweets and snacks displayed in wooden boxes just as they would have been in the Showa period, Kimuraya has been in operation for over 70 years now. The standard operating hours are from 2pm until 5pm daily, but this often changes depending on demand – keep that in mind if you plan to stop by.
3 Chome-40-19 Sendagi, Bunkyo City, Tokyo 113-0022
Dagashiya Game Museum
If the games instead of the candy at dagashiya are more your thing, be sure to check out the Dagashiya Game Museum in Itabashi. Visitors obtain a token (priced at ¥200) from a vending machine at the entrance, which is then exchanged for "medals" which can be used to play a variety of retro games.
17-8 Miyamotocho, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo 174-0054
Kashiya Yokocho / Candy Alley, Kawagoe, Saitama
A trip to Kawagoe is worth it for many reasons, but Kashiya Yokocho (also known as candy alley) is a highlight. The street is home to around 20 candy stores, which each one specializing in different products. You can explore more about Kashiya Yokocho in this Japan Travel article.