by Bryce Marley-Jarrett
Japan offers travellers many amazing things: historic sites, museums, spectacular natural wonders, amazing people. Oh, and also shopping! One of the biggest shopping items people are after in Japan in electronics. And it’s no wonder with Japan being one of the world’s leading tech innovation countries. Today Japlanning will give you the low down on buying electronics in Japan and explaining the tax free benefits available to foreign visitors.
Japan is home to many of the biggest and most innovative electronics companies in the world, they love their tech, and it is available everywhere in stores you wouldn’t find anywhere else.
Back home you would go to a electrical store, like Bestbuy, or JB HI-FI to get a camera, TV, computer. Usually these stores are just a single story and carry only a selection or a few variations for everything. Japan do these stores a little differently: Electronics stores are as big (and sometimes bigger) as a department store. Chain megastores like Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera are up to 12 storeys tall and carry everything imaginable! Full floors that are just for computers, TV’s, washing machines, cell phones. Every. Thing.
These stores are loud, colourful, and bustling with people. On the top of many of the flagship Yodobashi stores have clothing stores and restaurants too. You can spend hours, or even a full day in one of these mega stores just getting lost playing with the latest tech, and even some items you will never find anywhere else. You will find many items that have been made just for life in Japan -- gadgets that you would think you would never need and you will probably never find outside Japan.
WHAT TO BUY
Really, if there is anything you like in the realm of tech, you should look for it. We have found most electronics in Japan are priced similarly to back home in Australia (and cheaper than anything in America, especially when you factor the strong USD against the yen), or cheaper than Australia.
The best part that is many products you look for, you may find a newer model than back home. Japan is the first release country for many items, particularly cameras. You will find newer models that will show up in stores back home in the next 6 months to a year.
Want to be the first person back home with the latest camera? Pick it up in Japan. Almost certainly it will be cheaper than it will be back home once released (especially when you pick it up tax free).
Items we would recommend looking to pick up if you are in the market for it in Japan are:
Cameras - DSLR's, Compacts, Lens, Equipment etc.
Computer - Laptops and Ultrabooks etc.
Rice Cookers (seriously - these are amazing)
Electronic toilet seats
Apple Products - iPads, iPhones, MacBooks etc.
Japlanning Tip - When buying these items, especially appliances, make sure they will cooperate with your country's voltage. For USA/Canada, all items will be no issue. For Australia/Asia/Europe, be sure to make sure the chargers for cameras & laptops, etc are 100V-240V so they won’t blow up when you plug them in. If you choose to buy 100-110V items for a country that is higher than that, make sure you have a voltage converter before using.
Japlanning Tip: Sony products sold in Japan have no english menus. If you’re buying Sony items, look out for the Overseas Model section in stores which stock english models!
For rice cookers and other kitchen appliances, make sure you visit the Tax-Free section in these big stores, as they will have English appliances (important so you can know what button does what!) and also they will show you the voltages of the appliances. Tax free section is where they sell rice cookers and other appliances specifically made to work in 220V-240V countries.
BUYING ELECTRONICS TAX FREE
Most electronics are already cheaper in Japan once you look at exchange rates and the general cost, however as a foreign visitor you can get additional savings, thanks to the Japanese tax exemption on certain products for foreign visitors. You can be eligible to be exempt from paying the consumption tax (similar to GST or sales tax) on items, which is currently 8% (bumping up to 10% in April 2017).
Participating stores in the Tax Free program will show this symbol:
(both stores we mentioned above participate in)
For consumables (like electronics), the condition is on a single transaction, you will need to have spent over 10,000JPY (about $100.00).
At stores like Yodobashi and Bic Camera you will find on a floor (usually the camera floor) there is a Tax-Free Section where the most popular items for Tax Free purchases are on the sales floor, with English information, and also a large cashier here where they ask all tax-free purchases to be made. As a bonus, you’ll usually find that most of the staff in these sections speak pretty perfect English, and much more of the signage is also in English.
To make the purchase you will need your items (if you were dealing with a salesperson throughout the store, many will place the item at the tax free cashier and give you a number to present at checkout and they will collect your items to ring up). You will be required to present your passport too. When they process the sale, they’ll take off the tax from the price, and fill out a government tax exempt form that will be placed in your passport.
Note: Do not remove these from your passport. You are required to present these at the airport on departure and the purchased items, along with your purchases.
WANT TO SAVE MORE?
So now you have been able to purchase electronics, already cheaper than back home, with 8% knocked off the prices thanks to the exemption of the consumption tax. Here comes some great more savings.
At the time of writing this, both Yodobashi and Bic Camera have had long running deals for foreign customers purchasing tax free items: if you pay with a VISA card, you will receive an additional 5% off the price! So you can potentially get 13% off the marked price if you are eligible for the tax free exemption and pay with VISA!
Remember to always travel around Japan with your passport handy (not only because it’s the law) and also your VISA in case you see an item at Yodobashi or Bic Camera and want to make sure you get the maximum savings.
So now we have some real world examples from purchase the Japlanning team made in April this year to show you how you can save hundreds of dollars buying electronic items while on vacation in Japan as opposed to back home.