Japan is one of the best destinations to enjoy world-class shopping. They’re known for their incredible selection of the latest electronics and anime collectibles, but you can find high-quality souvenirs ranging from shoes to kitchenware. Best of all, if you’re a foreigner, you can enjoy tax-free shopping in both large retailers and small boutiques all over the country. Here’s how.
How tax-free shopping in Japan works
All goods in Japan are subject to a 10% consumption tax, and 8% for food and drink. Typically, listed prices include this tax, so when you shop tax-free, you get 8-10% discount on whatever you’re buying. Not all retailers participate, but you will find “tax-free” signs at the ones that do, and salespeople often mention it as a way to entice customers.
Your purchase qualifies for a tax discount if it is over 5000 yen and you show your passport to which your purchase is then registered. Most of the time, you get the discount upon check-out, but you may have to pay the full price up front and then go to a customer service desk or tax-free desk for a tax refund.
It’s important to note that tax-free shopping is not available for Japanese citizens or residents or anyone that has been in Japan for more than six months. And in some cases, the tax-free goods cannot be used in Japan. These consumables are packed in a sealed bag with a sticker to ensure that you are taking the product out of the country for use.
When you leave the country, you must have these items with you since they are registered to your passport. At the airport, customs officers may check your luggage for these items or the receipts. If you are checking tax-free items like knives, for instance, you should inform the airline staff so a customs officer can survey your tax-free items at the check-in desk.
Using Visit Japan Web for tax-free shopping
Originally designed to streamline entry while Covid restrictions were in place, the Visit Japan Web app has been co-opted for immigration paperwork and to make shopping easier. By inputting your passport information into the website, you can eliminate the need to show your passport when you shop. You can just present the QR code at the shop, and all necessary information is instantly transmitted. This function may not be available at all stores where you can shop tax-free, so it’s good to have your passport handy anyway.
Things to know about shopping in Japan
The process of trying on clothes is different.
You’ll notice when you walk around clothing stores that shopkeepers may follow you around. This is customary as they want to be attentive and available when you need something. When you want to try something on, you typically ask them, and they’ll direct you to the fitting rooms and sometimes wait outside while you try them on.
You are required to remove your shoes before you enter the fitting room and put a thin face cover over your head that the store provides to prevent makeup from getting on the clothes. After you’re done, you hand the clothes you don’t want back to the attendant.
Clothing sizes run small.
Even if you’re not especially big, you may find that you are functionally obese in Japanese clothing stores. A size medium in Western stores is often equivalent to a large or extra large in Japan. Sleeves may also be shorter than you’re used to. So even though trying on clothes may seem a little odd, it’s important to do so because there’s a good chance the size you’re used to doesn’t fit.
You have to bag your own groceries.
If you come from a Western country where your groceries are bagged for you while you pay, you may be surprised when the cashier moves on to the next customer without bagging your things. If you didn’t bring your own bag, you’ll be charged for a plastic bag and you’ll have to bag the groceries yourself.
Don’t expect crappy knock-off souvenirs.
The Japanese are nothing if not principled. So if you’re in the market for a cool Pokemon plushy or a high-end phone, you won’t find any options outside of the officially licensed product. While this sometimes means you pay a premium, you can always be guaranteed of the quality of what you’re buying. Mass-produced Wish-version of goods are not commonly peddled in Japanese shops.
In many cities, you can find similar stores clustered together.
There are some neighborhoods where you can find specialized stores together, making niche shopping and product comparison easy and convenient. For example, Akihabara in Tokyo and Namba in Osaka are both entertainment districts with a ton of electronics, manga, and anime stores. If you’re in the market for kitchenware, the Tenjinbashi-suji market in Osaka and Kappabashi Street in Tokyo have everything you need to outfit your kitchen or even open a restaurant.
Popular large discount stores offer great shopping.
If you’re not looking for anything specific but you want to browse a little bit of everything from cosmetics to brand-name handbags, stores like Don Quijote (or Donki for short) have floors upon floors of everything you didn’t know you needed. It’s a great place to buy souvenirs or stock up on candy. Lumine department stores sell similar goods that are high-quality but affordable. If you want to find the cheapest knick knacks, check out 100 yen stores like Daiso.
Payment is handed over on a tray.
When you’re ready to pay, you place your cash on a tray that is provided. The shopkeeper will return your change the same way.
No matter your budget, Japan is a shopper’s paradise where you can find a little something for everyone.