Harry Winston, Tiffany, Cartier. These are jewelry brands that everyone knows. Loved all over the world, possession of these brands’ items is often perceived to mean high status. However, it seems that foreigners visiting Japan do not take notice of these high-end brands, but aim for downtown jewelry stores in places like Ueno and Okachimachi.
Why do foreign tourists buy jewelry in Ueno and Okachimachi? And why are there so many jewelry stores in Ueno and Okachimachi in the first place? Continuing from last time, we spoke to Mr. Daisuke Motojima who works as an expert for brand item auctioning company SMAOKU.
Why is it that Ueno and Okachimachi have so many jewelry stores?
Motojima: Soon after the Second World War, many so-called “black markets” opened in Ueno and Okachimachi, and all sorts of items from all over Japan were collected.
In Ueno and Okachimachi at the time, because of the influence of the black market, there were many money lenders and pawn shops. And it is believed that because those types of shops handled gems and high-class items as part of their trade, that is why so many of those products came about.
It is said that the money lenders and pawn shops who were unable to hold on to those items, gradually began to sell them on the black market.
What about the quality of items sold in Ueno and Okachimachi?
Motojima: The quality is extremely good. At least, things like counterfeiting are scarce. If counterfeit or low-quality items are being sold, that reputation will spread, leading to the discontinuation of [that] business.
The quality is not that different from that of high-end brands. A so-called “design charge” is included in rings and other accessories sold by high-end brands, and that is the cause of their high price.
For example, if you think of buying a 1 karat diamond ring from a high-end shop in Ginza, it won’t be less than 1 million yen. However, in Ueno or Okachimachi, it could be purchased for around 1/3 of the price.
Is it that people from other countries know that and visit Ueno and Okachimachi?
Motojima: The wealthy people know the so-called “genuine items”. Depending on the high-end brands they have, they don’t care about things like status.
This is the same even in Japan. The wealthy and those in the jewelry industry and so on, have often gone to Ueno and Okachimachi. In Japan, the value of a brand is considered to be extremely important. Honestly, I think there are many people who [have thought this and] suffer losses. The wealthy people abroad have a strong tendency to place more value on the jewel itself rather than the brand.
From the chaotic post-war period until now, Ueno and Okachimachi have been the heart of the Japanese jewelry market. Besides Japan, what has attracted the attention of tourists from overseas is the high quality lined with history and the incredibly low prices. Not only places like Ueno Zoo and Ameyoko [are tourist spots], but the unchanged jewelry shops of Ueno and Okachimachi could become new tourist spots.
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