The misnomer that haggling or bargaining is out of the question in Japan is right up there with tattoos being taboo and the Japanese diet consisting entirely of raw fish as the most oft repeated misconceptions about Japan. It understandably stems from the fact that in certain situations it is admittedly not an option, and certainly for most tourists haggling will be of little to no use, but when you live there for a while and find salesmen discounting their wares at an alarming rate when you are actually just not interested – the penny/yen drops. Luckily for me, the areas where you can bargain in Japan tend to be related to fashion so I have picked up quite a few tips over the years along with the bargains themselves, so I thought I would share those with you and try to save you some yen as it continues to rise.
Continue reading for a rundown of top tips and I really do hope they are of use to you down the line.
Japan has a fantastic history of haggling and it used to be the norm to discuss it openly, however these days shopping is very formulaic and un-confrontational. These days bargains are almost solely devoted to Lucky Bags, Sales and “Buy one get one free” style pre-declared offers. The emphasis is on the customer not having to ask for a bargain and pretending that they don’t necessarily need one. However away from formulaic shopping environments there is a lot of room for negotiation that you are expected to take advantage of.
What not to do:
Don’t push it. If there is no initial movement on the haggling there won’t ever be. This is the first rule that should compliment the polite Japanese shopping experience. Think how polite the majority of people will have been to you, you definitely would not want to tarnish that and it really will not get you anywhere.
If you don’t speak Japanese and they don’t speak English don’t bother. It is bad enough that Japanese shop staff are badgered endlessly by tourists who don’t speak any Japanese, to try and get a discount is adding insult to injury.
If in doubt don’t try. You need a little bit of charisma and a little bit of charm to initiate bargaining well and if it is an open goal as regards the possibility of bargaining the salesperson will probably initiate the discussion, not you.
What to do:
Know the shop. Odds on a konbini, or any kind of media shop is not the place for bargaining, a market-stall, small shop or place where the manager is actually present is going to be a better bet.
Let it happen naturally. This is particularly true of places like Ueno in Tokyo, smaller jewelry shops, street stalls, etc. Ask to see the item in question, really consider it, ask about the price (even if you can see it), maybe say that you think it is a little bit expensive. If at this point you see them reach for a calculator you know you are onto a good thing! Basically at its easiest, bargaining in Japan is forced onto you, of course if you are clad in gold and Louis Vuitton it is less likely to happen, but by and large if you are in a shop where bargaining is encouraged they will bring it up (often with calculator in hand). Just feign interest and get a good bit of banter going and watch the price fall down, in my experience down to a third of the original price is where it tends to stop if you just play it cool.
But what if this does not happen?
OK, so they are not helping you out, but you have read the shop and you think it is not out of the question. I go for the old – “is that your best price”? In response to that I have with equal ratios been: Given the chance to haggle. Not had to pay the tax. Pointed in the direction of items they are willing to bargain for. Offered a free gift instead of a discount.
So it is definitely worth asking if you are sure you have read the shop right.
But I am not in a cool little shop!
So you are not in a little smoky shop in Koenji with the manager, you are in OIOI – traditional bargaining is not really an option. However, I have been offered discounts based on bulk buying, I was buying some Christmas presents in bulk – 10 things all at the same shop, the discount = 30%. Bought 3 silver pendants at once discount = 10% and they were in the sale to start with. In short, only ask if you really think you deserve a discount.
Other things to remember:
Point cards are invariably your friend, and can offer you discounts in places where bargaining is a no-go.
An awful lot of department stores allow you to claim your tax back (dependent on your visa).
Repeat customers often get incremental discounts. At one clothes shop I started with a 10 percent discount that worked its way up to 50 percent after a relatively small number of visits.
Staff will often offer you a discount to buy more and the conditions of that are always going to vary. I once took a single t-shirt to the counter of Casva in 109-2 and was offered 50 percent off anything else if I would buy anything else – so I promptly picked up a leather jacket and walked out with a smile on my face!
So you’re haggling, any tips?
Keep to the big numbers, ie. exactly 10000 yen etc and don’t try and shave small amounts off and don’t quibble over 500 yen, that is just going to annoy.
Be painfully obvious! Make it clear you are after a good price and not questioning the value of the item.
Don’t be aggressive, I would never make eye-contact in this situation or mention specific amounts of money.
In Conclusion –
A lot of this advice is pretty anecdotal, but I just want to illustrate that it is perfectly possible and acceptable throughout Japan (even in Tokyo) to have a little haggle. In Tokyo you have to assess the shop correctly and much will depend on how likable you are, if there is any good reason to brush up on your Japanese, then surely this is it!
Remember – haggling in Japan is distinctly passive compared to the rest of the world, but is nevertheless part of the overall shopping experience. Japan has a great history of merchant banter – don’t let it die out!