Guide to Shopping and Tax-Free Info

Small 100-yen stores; local shoutengai; huge department stores spanning entire train stations; glitzy boulevards of Omotesando and Ginza—shopping in Japan is never the same twice. How are you supposed to navigate the wide world of shopping and spending your yen in Japan, filling that spare suitcase, and be spared from confusion? This guide aims to help!

Overview

Shopping is more or less the same anywhere, but here are a few tips for how things work in Japan. You’ll learn about how—as a foreign visitor—you can save a little money, making payments, and even in-store interactions.

Tax Exemption

Many stores offer foreign visitors an 8% domestic consumption tax exemption upon showing their passport. Look for the campaign sign (shown above). Here are some finer points:

  1. Locations

    Tax-free shopping is often available at major department stores and shopping centers—at smaller stores, look for the information counter or customer service desk.

  2. Products

    Tax-free shopping is available for many product lines.

    Commodities—such as consumer electronics, bags, ornaments, clothing, shoes etc.—may be eligible when purchased at the same store on the same day to a total over 10,001 yen.

    Consumables—such as food, beverages, medicine, tobacco, cosmetics etc.—totaling over 5,001 yen are also eligible.

  3. Eligibility

    The tax-free exemption program is usually aimed at those on a 90-day visa, but in some cases up to 6 months.

  4. Procedure

    Procedures vary at each store but in every case, you’ll have to show your passport. You’ll be offered an upfront 8% claim or—more likely—be able to receive an 8% rebate on all purchased goods upon taking receipts to the tax exemption counter. To be safe though, always check with a store before making any purchases to ask about their inclusion in the program and the rebate method offered.

  5. Savings

    You can save on consumption tax—which is 8% on all consumer goods. This can create some great savings for higher value goods, especially when combined with other discounts.

Payment

Everything you need to know about payment.

Which price is which

In Japan, pre-tax prices are what you usually see—no matter what was advertised (on the shelf, in an advert, etc.). As of April 1, 2014, an 8% VAT is added to that—but you may be eligible for tax exemption at larger stores.

Negotiation

In Japan, one does not generally negotiate prices. Sometimes, if you’re buying something with a defect or something extremely expensive, they may throw in a small gift or discount as a way to ease the burden. In most cases though, please do not negotiate.

Credit cards, cash and IC cards

Credit cards are gaining more widespread use in Japan, but there are still many places that accept cash only. Not to mention, even if they accept credit cards it may be a matter of only accepting domestic cards.

As Japan is still largely a cash-based consumer body, you’ll want enough cash on you to last several days.

In more populated areas, smaller purchases at convenience stores and some vending machines can be paid for by IC card (like the Suica or PASMO card).

In-store

Assistance

No matter the issue you’re having in a store, Japanese staff are generally very helpful, polite, and well informed. In larger cities and stores, there may even be English-speaking staff. If all else fails, you can always use our shopping survival phrases.

Trying on clothes

Typically, before using a fitting room you’ll want to find a staff member to ask. They’re usually nearby and ready to help. You may also be expected to remove your shoes before entering the changing room—and when you leave, they’ll usually be neatly arranged for you.

Sales

Seasonal sales and limited "time sales" (タイムセール) are announced well in advance—and can often be very crowded. But they’re a great savings source, often offering an additional 10–15% savings.

Souvenirs and Gift-wrapping

And finally, no visit to Japan would be complete without mentioning souvenirs, or omiyage. In Japan, every region—and in some cases, city—has their own specialty. Regional snacks are a popular domestic gift but might not make the long trip back home.

Many shops offer gift-wrapping services. While this service is often free it may cost a little extra at some stores, so be sure to ask.

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