5 must-knows that foreigners should be armed with when shopping in Japan
Trays at the cashier area
You might have noticed that nearly every cash register you go to, be it at a restaurant, cafe, small eatery, retail shop, supermarket or convenience store, you would see a small tray either attached to it or placed on the table. That, in fact, is a thoughtful setup for customers, especially for those who might have coins to pass to the cashier. Since the smallest Japanese notes only comes in JPY1,000 (SGD12). Instead of making the customer wait for the cashier’s hands to be free to receive the money, this arrangement allows the customer to leisurely, without any pressure, relatively that is, count their coins and place it on the tray. The cashier, on the other hand, won’t need to fumble too much with the coins or risk dropping it on the floor. In addition, it minimises the possibility of misunderstanding arising as the amount can be set aside until the customer leaves after being satisfied with the change being handed over.
So, the next time you are in face with the change tray, do make full use of it, as it is probably the only way we are able to act the same as the locals.
A common question you might be asked when you use credit card
Have you ever wondered why do the cashiers in Japan ask “how many times do you want to charge your credit card?” (assuming that you do know that that was what they were asking you about). I know I do, and I had been wondering about the question for the longest time till I finally have the answer lately, after consulting Google of course! Hee!
The answer foreigners will always have to give is “ikkai”, because much as we love to, the machine won’t be able to process foreign credit card for separate payments anyway. The reason cashiers are trained to pop that question is because some credit card companies allow payments to be separated into two instalments, either interest free or at a nominal fee.
The next common question you might encounter at the cashier
The next common question that will leave any non Japanese speaker displaying a blank expression at the cashier is “Do you have any points card” (point-to ka-do o arimasu ka?)
And of course foreigners will always have to say “no” (ii-ye) because we cannot possibly have any membership cards since that would require a Japan address.
P.S: And on that same note, it would probably be useful to just answer ii-ye to generically all answers when in doubt.
P.P.S: And oh! Except when you are purchasing your bento meal in convenience stores and the staff asks if you want it to be heated up (ah-ta-ta-meh-te). In that case, always answer “HAI!”
Usage of credit cards
Credit cards may seem like commonplace in almost every developed country. But in Japan, the majority of their retail is still financed on customers’ cash on hand. Major chain stores, departmental stores, and of course luxury brands, however, do accept credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard. I was even surprised at how some departmental stores are now targeting Mainland Chinese consumers as well as Taiwanese, Thais and Koreans. Marui 0l0l in Shibuya, for example, has a 5% discount for UnionPay card payments, on top of the 8% tax exemption.
Tax exemption for foreigners
Currently standing at 8%, the consumption tax will be raise to 10% in late 2019. In stark contrast as to how everybody else in the world are handling their tax refund procedures, Japan does it in such easy-peasy manner, you will never hesitate to sheepishly ask for tax exemption even for a JPY5,000 (approx SGD60) purchase.
You make the purchase, get the tax-free receipt, which sometimes will require you to have it processed somewhere else.
How the rest of the world does it: On the day of departure, you go to the airport, get customs to stamp on your receipt, before or after entering the passport control depending on where you had packed your purchase, in case the customs officer asks to verify it. After which you will need to proceed, after the passport control, to a Refund Office, either Global Blue or Premier Tax free, just to name a couple. AND THEN will you get your cash MINUS a service fee. Or you can choose to have the amount refunded to your credit card, which might take a long time or even not happen sometimes, till you either forgot about it or simply cannot do anything about it. (Phew! Making me tired just talking about the procedures) And oh! Did I happen to mention the possible long queues you might be encountering? Aside from taking away precious time for you to do some last minute shopping, you either run the risk of giving the ‘tax marathon’ a miss to catch your flight or you will have to factor in an additional hour and reach the airport early
And now for the chill-lax version, the Japan way: Make sure that all the receipts that are attached in your passport by the Japanese staff are kept intact and do not lose them. On the day of departure, you will have to surrender them BEFORE the passport control where it usually says ‘Customs’. FULL STOP Ok. I probably have to explain that because by showing your passport and the store processing your purchase as tax-free, you had not been charged the tax amount at all. All you had to do is to surrender the receipts to prove that you had left Japan with your purchases. In the event that you failed to, you might be charged the amount should your mode of payment be in credit card. (Don’t ask me what happens then if you had paid it in cash, because I have no idea)
Japan shopping here we go!