Do a search for “Japan” and “expensive” and you’ll get conflicting results. While your expenditures depend heavily on your place of residence, the prices of some goods and services in Japan certainly raise eyebrows.
Regardless of what you’re looking to purchase, these 10 Japanese words and phrases will help you navigate your way around the supermarket or shopping mall when looking for the best deals.
Let’s start with five alternatives to 高い (takai), or expensive.
1. ワンランク上: Wan ranku ue, or upgrade
For a nominal fee (usually around ¥500 to ¥1,000), you may be able to improve a dining plan or travel package. For example, you can upgrade your tabehodai (all-you-can-eat) yakiniku course to include a certain brand of beef. A travel agency might throw in an all-day tour or allow you to upgrade your hotel room.
Tip: When booking or ordering with an agent or server, ask: “ワンランク上のプランはありますか？Wan ranku ue no puran wa arimasu ka? (Do you have any upgrades available?)”
2. 上品: Jouhin, or upscale
Riding in the Gran Class shinkansen car (that’s a step above the Green Car), dining on sushi prepared by a three-starred Michelin chef or living in a classy serviced apartment — ain’t expat life fabulous?
While this lifestyle certainly has a sense of jouhin, or elegance, the word “jouhin” can also be used to describe refined people. It’s also a tactful way to say that something is, uh, “expensive AF!”
Tip: You can express disbelief at the number of zeros on a price tag and sound classy at the same time by saying: “上品ですね。Jouhin desu ne. (It’s very elegant.)”
3. 上質: Joushitsu, or high quality
Just because something is expensive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re actually getting high-quality goods. On the other hand, going over your budget can actually save you money in the long run.
Initial costs may be higher than a lower-priced option, but the price of items known for their craftsmanship and durability will easily withstand daily wear and tear and won’t need to be replaced as often. This will save you money in the long term.
Tip: Express your appreciation for the finer things in life with: “上質な物(もの)にこだわってます。Joushitsu na mono no kodawatteimasu. I am particular about high-quality items.”
4. 高級: Koukyuu, or luxurious
If #yolo and #treatyoself are your mottos, then koukyuu (luxurious) products are the way to go. Or are they? In Japanese, practically anything can be made appealing with 高級 affixed to it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should buy it!
The term koukyuu is used in Japanese to denote 高級車(luxury cars), 高級な料理 (fine cuisine) and 高級ホテル (luxury hotels).
Tip: Before you drop serious cash ask yourself this: “高級品に余裕あるのかな? Koukyuuhin ni yoyuu aru no kana? (Can I afford to splurge on this?)”
5. プレミアム, or premium
One of the latest product marketing strategies involves leveled-up “premium” items such as beer, chocolates, holidays, services and more. The idea is that consumers can get the perks by splurging on a few things without having to take a deep financial hit. Items labeled “premium” rarely have a significant price increase.
For example, Suntory started the premium beer trend with the release of The Premium Malts, a beer that uses select ingredients and 100 percent natural spring water in order to distinguish it from other beers in its lineup.
Tip: Disappointingly, as we’ve seen The Premium Malt’s to Premium Fridays: just because something is labeled “premium” doesn’t actually mean that it’s worth it.
Now, let’s take a look at five alternatives to 安い (yasui), or cheap.
[Jouhin] is also a tactful way to say that something is, uh, ‘expensive AF!’
6. お手頃: Otegoro, or affordable
You want to save money, but you don’t want to look like a penny-pinching cheapskate, either — especially if what you’re planning to purchase will be used at a social event.
Tip: Discreetly ask for wallet-friendly options by asking: “お手頃価格はないでしょうか？ Otegoro kakaku wa nai deshou ka? (Don’t you have something more affordable?)”
7. プチプラ, or low price
The latest trend in Japanese cosmetics and skincare is not a particular ingredient or eco-friendly packaging but rather this term —プ チプラ (puchipura) — meaning “lower priced.”
Products marked プチプラ will help you save yen and keep you looking good, too! You can even find fashion blogs full of puchipara styling options. Check out the top puchipara style rankings over on the blog site Ameba for practical and affordable styling options from brands like Uniqlo and GU.
Tip: While browsing for your next lipstick or mascara, ask a shop attendant: “プチプラコーデを教えてください。Can you show me some more affordable styling options?”
8. コスパ, or cost performance
Often used in online product reviews, kosupa (an abbreviation of コストパフォーマンス, or “cost performance”) can let you know if you definitely will — or won’t — get your money’s worth.
When you see コスパが良い or コスパが高い, it means that what you’re about to buy is totally worth it. If the reviews state コスパが悪い or コスパが低い, that means to avoid the product at all costs!
Tip: Search online using the product name plus “コスパ.”
9. お買い得: Okaidoku, or a bargain
You don’t need to wait until the New Year fukubukuro (lucky bag) shopping rush if it’s simply a bargain that you’re after. Stores routinely advertise sale items with お買い得 stickers and お買い得セール banners.
Tip: When out shopping, ask: “本日のお買い得品はなんですか？Honjitsu no odaidokuhin wa nandesuka? What’s on sale today?”
10. 格安: Kakuyasu, or budget-friendly
A buzzword associated with kakuyasu koukou gaisha (low-cost airlines) and kakuyasu sumaho (discount smartphone plans) in Japan, “kakuyasu” is the word every bargain hunter must know.
Kakuyasu implies that you are getting the ultimate deal — but cautious when it comes to the fine print of your contract.
Tip: Check the regulations for your discount airline tickets otherwise you could rack up serious charges in extra baggage or meals and drinks in flight. Ask: “格安航空券の注意点は何ですか?” Kakuyasu koukuuken no chuuiten wa nandesuka? What do I need to watch out for when buying LCC tickets?”
These 10 Japanese words and phrases are tasteful alternatives to takai (expensive) and yasui (cheap). Now that you know how to determine which items are worth your hard earned yen, let us know your tips for saving money in Japan.
[Our resident GaijinPot urban linguists Mayu Yokouchi and Saaya Iijima contributed to this article.]