Spend enough time walking around central Osaka 大阪 and chances are fairly high you’ll eventually spot a branch of the prefecture’s exclusive discount supermarket chain1 – , Super Tamade スーパー玉出, arresting your field of vision with store designs I would hardly describe as ‘inconspicuous’. Presented as a Yellow, Red and Neon assault on the senses, they showcase a brilliant lack of restraint in their branding, and with most branches being open 24/7, they’re even more visible at night as the stores attempt to pound both customers and passers by into epileptic submission with their vast arrays of animated neon signboards.

Rainbow neon outside a branch of Super Tamade. On the left is a 100¥ section (0.90USD) of dirt cheap housewares and stationary.
Rainbow neon outside a branch of Super Tamade. On the left is a 100¥ section (0.90USD) of dirt cheap housewares and stationary.

Along with it’s lavish exteriors, Super Tamade is infamous for it’s cheap prices and so it’s no real surprise to find a large concentration of it’s stores are centred around Osaka’s Nishinari Ward 西成区 – widely regarded as one of the most deprived areas in Japan; with the business itself being named after the neighbourhood’s own Tamade 玉出 district. The store’s iconic ‘1 Yen Deal’ has long been a staple offer, in which various sundry items are available to buy for only a single Yen (0.0090 USD) if you spend over a certain amount (usually 1000 Yen), and rotates every 3 days or so – A practice that the recent buyer of the business (it was sold in mid-2018) seems keen on revising, as it generates substantial losses.

Store organisation follows the 'no-frills' approach with most products displayed in their delivery cartons, - often piled high in the aisles. Also, despite what the sign on the right says, they don't look much like pickles to me...
Store organisation follows the 'no-frills' approach with most products displayed in their delivery cartons, - often piled high in the aisles. Also, despite what the sign on the right says, they don't look much like pickles to me...

Rumours abound regarding Super Tamade’s supposed connection to the Yakuza ヤクザ – I’ve seen claims that the stores are merely a front for money laundering, but can’t find anything substantial to back this up on the Japanese language web – just hearsay in various forums and blogs. I imagine if you look hard enough an association would present itself – there are after all, 2 Yakuza syndicates headquartered in Nishinari, so I’d imagine it would be hard for any business to totally avoid them, although I can’t speak as to how deep their ties to Tamade might go. That doesn’t mean however, that the company always remains on the right side of the law – recently, it came under fire after it was revealed to be taking advantage of foreign students from Vietnam and China working there part time well in excess of their contracted hours – interesting, considering all of the companies in Japan which get away with that sort of thing.

Eyecatching Tamade signage in downtown Osaka.
Eyecatching Tamade signage in downtown Osaka.

Being a tight-fisted Yorkshireman, I was all-too-naturally drawn to Tamade’s selection of cheap-eats, and it served as a convenient base for food shopping during my stay in the area in late 2016. I’d say the quality of what I bought (mostly various Bento 弁当, Onigiri お握り, instant noodles and various snacks) was decent enough and did it’s job of generally keeping me alive – I managed to avoid falling ill at least, despite warnings from locals about potentially lax safety standards, so either their misgivings are unfounded, I got extremely lucky; or I’ve got an iron stomach. Perhaps more experimentation is needed to draw any firm conclusions – I propose trying the Fugu 河豚 – that should lay to rest any speculation (and possibly myself).

  1. Well, almost exclusive – they did recently expand into neighbouring Hyōgo Prefecture 兵庫県 in 2010
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