'Price killers' cut through Japan's shops: Hard sell replaces 'honourable patronage'

IT USED to be like this: 'Second floor, if you please. Ladies' fashions, if you please. Going up to the third floor - please wait a short honourable moment. A genuine thank you for your honourable patronage today.' Now it is more like this: 'These prices are unbeatable. Get yours before we run out. Buy three or four at the same time'.

The language of shopping in Tokyo used to be genteel, enunciated in polite, high-pitched Japanese by white-gloved elevator ladies conveying customers from one floor to the next in the posh, long-established department stores. But in these recessionary days the politeness is disappearing. It is being replaced by the brusque staccato of street salesmen with portable loudspeakers pushing cut-price goods at passers-by.

Consumer spending accounts for 60 per cent of Japan's economy, but despite emergency stimulus budgets from the government, consumers are still slow to splash out. Last month, sales of large retailers declined by 7.5 per cent, continuing a long downward trend, according to figures released yesterday by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Much to the government's frustration, Japanese citizens still have not shed that irritating habit of saving, particularly when times are rough - a habit, ironically, that was originally encouraged by the government after the Second World War. When they do go shopping, it is no longer for prestige goods with prestige price tags: discount stores are the current rage.

It is the era of the 'Price Destroyer' and the 'Category: Killer', as Japan's press, borrowing from Hollywood, has dubbed the new trend towards discount shopping. The smart shopping districts of Ginza and Aoyama in Tokyo are looking relatively deserted. Instead, people are flocking to areas like Kanda, Okachimachi, Ueno and Shinjuku where discount shops boast reductions of up to 70 per cent.

Consumers have finally woken up to what Western trade negotiators have been saying for years: normal retail prices in Japan are an enormous rip-off, supporting a parasitic wholesale and distribution network. On top of that is an almost immoral policy of price-rigging by big manufacturers who have been able to dictate to their retail outlets how much they must charge their customers, with the implicit threat to stop supplies if prices are lowered.

New discount shops are springing up in the cities to challenge this by 'destroying prices'. Magazines, which until recently ran lists of exclusive restaurants and fashionable art galleries, now run regular features on where the latest bargains can be found in cheap clothes or electronic goods. The yen may be appreciating on world markets, but at home the consumer is going down-market.

Discount shops, which sell everything from designer goods to food, cosmetics and cameras, use several tactics for cutting prices. Some defy the manufacturers' recommended retail prices by buying from other retailers with swollen stocks. Others cut out the wholesaler by buying in bulk from the manufacturer. Foreign goods like Scotch, perfumes or leather goods are being discounted through 'parallel importing', where companies circumvent appointed distribution agents - and their guaranteed percentage take - by importing from Hong Kong or Singapore.

The discount boom has even spread to foreign travel: these days 'bucket tickets' can be bought nearly as cheaply in Tokyo as in Bangkok or Hong Kong, Asia's traditional cheap-ticket locations. But although travel agents are able to wrangle cheap tickets to overseas destinations by fiddling the package-tour regulations, domestic air travel is still highly regulated.

Inevitably, as discount shops boom, other stores are going out of business. The 'honourable patronage' of overpriced shops is falling victim as Japanese shoppers rejoin the real world.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain