6 Tips on How to Shop Wiser and Save Money in Japan

  • With Japan being a fun country full of unique cultures and work ethics, buying anything in Japan can be an entirely new experience. In order for you to save money while buying things and understand more about Japanese shopping culture, here are some tips that I would like to share with you.

    1. Avoid Plastic Bags

    Some department stores and supermarkets in Japan charge a few yen if you use their plastic bags to carry the items that you purchase. This is not unusual, as it is one of their waste-reduction initiatives and if you notice, most of the stores in Japan provide you with biodegradable plastic bags when you buy something. However, do note that the thin plastic bags with no handles located near the cashier counters are for packing, too, and are free of charge.

    Plastic bag in Japanese is “fukuro”, so if you hear the cashier say something like “Fukuro wa irimasu ka?”, which means “Would you like a bag?”, you can say, “iie, kekkou desu” (no thanks) or “hai” (yes). All in all, it is recommendable to bring your own bag. This will save you a few yen in some shops and save you having to dispose of the bag later.

    2. Haggle

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    Bargaining at regular markets and shops in Japan is rather rare, however, to bargain at flea markets is a different story. You can easily do it even if you are a foreign tourist. I once saw a western woman who very easily bargained a 1000 yen kimono for just 500 yen!

    3. Visit a Tax-Free Shop (Tourists Only)

    When you see a shop that says “tax-free”, you might think that everything in the store is tax-free. However, sadly it doesn’t work that way. Tax-free shopping is only available for visitors with a temporary stay status (staying in Japan for less than six months) and you need to show your passport to the cashier to claim back the tax.

    The 8% tax can only be claimed with a purchase of 5,000 yen (tax not included) and above for both consumable items and general goods, but must not come to more than 500,000 yen. Both categories cannot be combined to reach the minimum spending amount.

    Items are not exempted from tax if purchased for business and commerce. Tax exemptions are only available on consumable items (foods and beverages, tobacco, medicine, cosmetics, batteries and film) and general goods (electric appliances, clothing, handicrafts, watches and jewelry, shoes and bags). Tax can be claimed at the store itself and items must be purchased from the same store on the same day.

    4. Collect Drug Store Discount Coupons

    If you think that you can’t spend a minimum of 5000 yen in the tax-free drug store, here is a tip: look out for discount coupons. Sometimes, especially in the afternoon, drug store staff members will stand in front of their store and distribute discount coupons which can only be used on that day. Do not look down on these coupons as some of them can go up to 15% off! Collect them from different stores and compare to see which one has a better discount.

    5. How to Read The Expiry Date

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    Generally, for food, there will be two expiry dates printed on the packaging. The earlier date would be the expiry date upon opening the packaging, whereas the later date would be the expiry date.

    Cosmetics, on the other hand, have the manufactured date shown instead. It is shown in the form of a code with the first digit representing the year followed by the month and batch.

    Generally, facial and body products expire within two or three years. Some products have their shelf-life printed on it; you just have to look for a container icon with a number on it representing the number of months. With these, we can estimate the products’ expiry date.

    Cosmetics in Japan are always freshly restocked (usually stocked within a year from the manufacture date) and will never be close to expiring, which is different from the case for food. Therefore, cosmetics in Japan are suitable for you to buy when you need it but would be unsuitable for you to buy a lot for storing purposes since there isn’t any apparent expiry date.

    6. Watch Out for Prices Being Marked Down

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    You may know that most supermarkets, convenient stores, and department stores mark down the price of their fresh food in the evening. These are done so that they can sell off their fresh food of the day and to prevent food wastage.

    Did you know that some of these stores also sell off their items which are close to expiring at very cheap price? I once noticed a small corner in Don Quijote with snacks that were way cheaper than they were supposed to be. When I went to take a closer look and checked for the expiry date, I found the reason for its cheap price was that the expiry date was very close.

    When you’re shopping for food that you plan to eat that day, be sure to keep an eye out for food marked down, usually indicated by a yellow sticker.

    Hopefully, these tips can help you shop more wisely in Japan. Use this advice to save some money and have a larger budget for more sightseeing and traveling during your trip!

    Featured image: jp.fotolia.com/