As a general rule, bargaining is not the “done thing” in Japan. Countless plucky tourists have received nothing but blank stares as they try to negotiate with the staff of even the biggest companies.
However, this can lead to the false impression that bargaining never happens. Especially in my adopted hometown of Osaka, bargaining is actually pretty common —if you know how to do it in a Japanese way. The Osaka おばちゃん (elderly ladies) are so deft at striking a bargain that they have become (in)famous in other prefectures. It is said that no major piece of electrical equipment is ever sold without a bargain being done in Kansai.
It is said that no major piece of electrical equipment is ever sold without a bargain being done in Kansai.
So how do they do it?
Know where to bargain
One way is to know the types of places that will be more open to bargaining. At flea markets or specialist stores, it may actually be unusual not to bargain! One easy solution for these smaller stores is to try and get a discount for cash, saving both parties from credit card fees.
Next time you’re out shopping, try 現金で払うと安くなりますか (Could I get a discount if I pay in cash?).
Another phrase that learners should endeavor to remember is the (少し)安くなりませんか phrase. This is a somewhat indirect way to ask for something to be made a little cheaper. You will also hear the similar まけてくれませんか used for the same purpose.
More intermediate learners should learn the word 値引き (a price cut) such as in the question 値引きしてもらえませんか (Could you give me a price cut?). Those that prefer to negotiate more directly may also want to try どのぐらいなら値引きできますか (How much of a price cut can you give for this?).
Check for product flaws
If the seller refuses to budge, you may want to try pointing out the flaws in their products and trying to negotiate a discount that way.
Inspect everything carefully and if there is even a minor flaw, this should be brought to the clerk’s attention before trying to negotiate a small discount because of it. This works because most Japanese will refuse to buy even slightly damaged goods.
The phrase ここに傷があるので安くしてください (As there’s a scratch here, please could you discount the price?) can work wonders.
Also make sure that if you purchase things from the store during a sale that you check whether it is being discounted or not. Often staff can overlook certain items that should have been reduced in price.
Before you hand over the money, ask 定価より安くなったりしませんか (Can this price get lower than the usual asking price?).
Negotiate your apartment contract
Of course it isn’t just when buying consumer goods that you should try your hand at bargaining. Long-term visitors to Japan should always negotiate over both rent and the agent’s fees when moving house. Even a relatively small saving of ¥1000 a month soon adds up.
You’ll need to know the words 家賃 (monthly rent), 礼金 (key money) and 敷金 (security deposit) as these are guaranteed costs you’ll have to cover when moving into a new apartment. The fees that can then typically be negotiated are the agency fee (仲介手数料), the contract renewal fee (更新料), the cleaning fee (クリーニング費用) and the key exchange fee (鍵交換代).
In most cases, the agent will be the contact point between the landlord and the management company and will be doing the bargaining on your behalf. Tenants rarely have direct contact with the landlord unless it’s a very rural area.
Despite first appearances, there are chances to bargain in Japan as long as you know where and when to do it.
As a general rule, your chances are much better for high-priced luxury items, especially if the store has a range of items. Also look for places with products that have no prices marked on them. If getting a discounted price is difficult, one technique can be to negotiate for a freebie instead. Getting ¥1000’s worth of free related stuff can often be just as valuable as getting a discount.