Japanese shops and shopping explained

Why do 100 yen shops sell so many hand water pumps?

They are to transfer the bath water into the washing machine, I have just found out. Don’t know why they need to be replaced though.

Why are there elevator girls in department stores, even though the elevators are automatic?

Who gets the button can be a social etiquette nightmare otherwise. It also shows that the department store is successful enough to be able to waste money on useless staff. An image with top snob value is particularly important for Japanese department stores because you give people gifts with the department store packaging still on them.

Why do department stores have art exhibitions?

Part of Westernizing, which department stores were at the forefront of?

Why are the names Matsuya and Yoshinoya both shared by posh department stores and cheap beef on a bowl gyudon chains?
No connection, commonest names, meanings

Why do bookshops allow tachiyomi (reading a whole comic standing up in the shop without paying for it)?


Why book covers?

A desire for privacy and a tendency for bored people on the train to stare at the few books that aren’t covered, plus the bookshops wanting to be not left behind by each other and outdo the convenience stores in terms of service. They also get some free advertising, and it helps preserve the book in good condition for being resold (being slightly bashed up can take 3/4 of the resale price).

Why are some perfectly good English language books in BookOff just 100 yen?

They aren’t listed in their catalogue. If you are trying to sell one of these books, you’ll get about 10 yen for it.

Why are there so many convenience stores in Japan?

It is partly due to government restrictions on the size of shops, meant to protect local shop owners from competition with supermarkets. I guess it has half worked…

How can little local electronics shops survive even though there are now much cheaper superstores everywhere?

According to “From Bonsai to Levis”, it’s because businesses still get most of their supplies from local companies. Alternatively, it could be a sign of the spending power of the over 60’s for whom going to another part of Tokyo is too much of an adventure.

Why are Japanese electronics shops often called something Camera?

Cameras were the first technology that the Japanese really dominated worldwide, even before cars.

Why is Denki Gai (Electric Town) in Akihabara?

Akihabara was one of the big post-war blackmarkets, along with Ueno. Similar shops all selling in the same street is a traditionally Japanese and Asian thing, so over time the various markets began to specialise- Akihabara’s speciality becoming cameras and then electronics.

Why is buying electronics in Akihabara popular with foreigners when buying the same stuff in Hong Kong or even back home is cheaper?

Maybe they don’t know that?? Or it’s to tell their friends back home that it was bought in Tokyo??

Why is tachiyomi (立ち読み-reading standing up in a bookshop or convenience store) such a big thing in Japan?

According to the this week’s From Our Own Correspondent (BBC Radio) it’s also big in France, where the other similarity is the popularity of comics-something you can easily finish in one visit. Once people get into the habit of doing it with comics, I guess it just spreads. Why the shops allow it, however, is still a mystery.

How have small shops managed to survive in Japan?

Just like in Italy, small business owners are, due to their number, organisation and support of the ruling party for most of the last 50 years, a politically influential group that is well protected by its politician friends. If I’m right about this one, the same must be true in France- any France experts want to support me or put me right? Not sure if the profusion of small shops in Japan that give the place atmosphere and a personal touch but keep prices high is an argument for or against free markets- maybe an argument for a happy medium between Italy and the UK??

Why has the long Japanese near recession coincided with an increase in the number of flagship brand shops?

According to Shutting Out the Sun, because “with the previous decade’s deflation and the consequent erosion of land prices in Tokyo’s best neighbourhoods, the real estate needed for such a large project had become cheap enough…to acquire” pg 150

“It seems that whenever I find something I really like at a convenience store, they stop selling it. Why do products come and go so fast in Japan?”

“Basically all conbini has security video camera right?… in Japan, these camera is for making private company database of which food is picked by customer. … If gaijin is eating some foods, they will discontinue because it must be too unhealthy or making everyone fat.”

Ask Kazuhide, Japanzine, September 2007

Why is “greengrocer” written as “eight hundred shop” (八百屋- yaoya)?

Just to match the pronunciation of a pre-existing word???

Why do Japanese barbers (床屋- tokoya) tend to spell it in English “bar-ber” with a dash?

An archaic use, ie. it was spelt that way in some European language when it was borrowed into Japanese when the first barbers were set up in the Meiji era?


  1. Michael said,

    November 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    yaoyya is cross over kanji. ya was the kanji 野 for yasai but 8 is lucky so they used the simpler lucky kanji in the generally confused use of kanji of early time.
    vegetable many (hundred is many) shop makes much more sense.

  2. alexcase said,

    November 29, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks, makes sense. Didn’t even know that eight was a lucky number, so did a little research and so wrote my new post. Could that explanation also be connected to this, e.g. eight (ya) used to mean many?

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