In Japan, a lot of emphasis is placed on the quality and appearance of products especially when it comes to foodstuff. This is also one of the key reasons why there is usually a premium attached to made-in-Japan products, be it electrical appliances to prepacked items such as confectionery and snacks or fresh food such as seafood, vegetables and meat. Especially when the item you buy is for the purpose of gifting rather than for personal use, that would be an, even more, compelling reason to ensure that it is of tip-top quality and looks good at the same time.
In recent years, though, there is a trend of “wake-ari products” which is attracting attention. To put it literally, “wake-ari” (訳あり or わけあり) means that there is a reason or excuse. When used in the context of products i.e. “wake-ari shohin” (わけあり商品), refers to products which have a reason or excuse for being cheap. In some cases, the products aren’t actually spoiled or bad but may have slight flaws in appearance or quality.
As explained above, consistency, high quality and a beautiful appearance are important to Japanese consumers when buying products. For consumers who do not mind these flaws especially if the items are meant for personal consumption, manufacturers and retailers sell these wake-ari products at a lower price than usual or throw in perks such as more quantity for the same price or free shipping. This is win-win for both the seller and the consumer as the seller doesn’t have to dispose of the merchandise and the consumers are able to take advantage of the discount.
As for what constitutes “wake-ari”, it can be anything from a broken piece, chip, scratch, fragment or crack in the product or items which are nearing their expiry dates or the appearance of products are affected in one way or another and reducing their appeal to customers. However, the functionality of the product should not be a reason why it is classified as “wake-ari” e.g. a mobile phone should still work as it is intended to even with flaws in its appearance or a food product should still taste good and not cause any health problems to the consumer.
One important thing to note though is that items which are deliberately sold at lower prices due to nearing expiry dates or to prevent the stocks from being obsolete are usually called “mikirihin” (見切り品) i.e. clearance products.
Below are some common features of wake-ari items:
- sold separately from the rest of the products via outlet malls, direct factory distribution outlets or through time-limit sales
- sometimes used for the purpose of food-tasting or as free gifts to the customers rather than being sold
- items which are supposed to be sold as a set but are now being sold one by one
- products made from excess raw materials
- seafood placed into the same box with another type of seafood for the ease of packing and preservation of freshness while on the fishing boats
- items which have been refined at least once as compared to the other products in the same batch
- products identified as flawed and fixed but still do not meet the minimum quality standard
Here’s an example of an interesting “wake-ari” product where a wagashi maker is selling the “ears” of dorayaki (i.e. Doraemon’s favourite snack) online. How did these “ears” come about? As explained by the maker, the “ears” are the edges of the dorayaki left behind after they made their heart-shaped dorayaki. As the original dorayaki is supposed to be round, the pieces of pancake left behind are then referred to as “ears” due to their shape. Normally, such items would be considered as rubbish to be thrown away but the maker has probably realised that there are people who may not mind buying these dorayaki ears even though they don’t come with a filling and are shaped in an odd manner. Apparently, this item is so popular that it’s currently sold out on Yahoo! Japan.
So, keep an eye out for wake-ari products next time you are out and about. You might be surprised at the quality of what you get at a fraction of the usual price!