Japan Diaries Day 29 – Japan’s Bargain Sales


After spending New Year’s Day with my fiance’s family, and with less than a week until I had to return to he states, I was ready to hit the famous Japanese New Year’s sales on January 2nd! Great deals, delicious desserts, and even a little family intrigue awaited me on the second day of 2015…



My one-month stay in Japan was steadily coming to a close, but before I thought about having to leave my fiance to return to grad school in the US, I was going to enjoy the short time I had left. And that included one of my favorite pasttimes in Japan: shopping!

In Japan, the sales after New Years are similar to the Black Friday sales in the US, with big discounts but a little less stampeding. These sales are called the New Year’s Bargain Sale お正月バーゲンセール and they offer low prices on the previous year’s inventory in order to make way for the new inventory – a sort of retail o-souji お掃除 or major cleaning.

I originally planned on going with my fiance’s older brother’s wife, but they had plans on the second, and so my fiance’s mother decided to take me to Ikebukuro 池袋. I was a little uneasy because I knew that it meant she would buy something for me, but she explained that she had purchased a lot of gifts for her Japanese daughter-in-law, and since I would soon be her daughter-in-law as well, she wanted to treat us evenly. I was still uneasy about having things bought for me, but I went anyways because it was a good chance to bond with my future mother-in-law I really wanted to shop.


Shopping in Shinjuku (not Ikebukuro) – photo by kei

We drove to the nearest station and then took the train into Ikebukuro. When we arrived at Ikebukuro it was no more crowded than it usually was on the weekends, but I was expecting more massive crowds, Black-Friday-style. In the US, Black Friday crowds can get angry and dangerous over the discounts available in electronics, but no one was pulling each other’s hair or stampeding over hapless victims. I didn’t go to Akihabara 秋葉原, the electronics and otaku オタク paradise, but I imagine that Japanese customers are in general more well-behaved than American customers.

There is a large influx of Chinese customers during the Bargain Sale days, hoping to get a good deal on luxury brands and rice cookers. I have heard stories of Chinese visitors flying back to China with as many rice cookers (suihanki 炊飯器) as they could carry. The deals on luxury brand goods must be much better than the price of the plane ticket to get to Japan.

Shopping in Tokyo

Shopping in Tokyo – photo by kei

I was after clothes and accessories, however. I wanted a Samantha Thavasa brand purse, because I have never seen them available in the US; and I wanted a cute winter coat, because Japanese coats are always cute. Those were my main goals, but I thought I’d see what else I could find.

We went to the main department store at Ikebukuro Station because there was just a huge selection. Department stores in Japan are large buildings with many smaller stores inside of them. It’s more like an American mall than a department store, but it makes shopping convenient. We spent about half the day shopping, and I bought more than half of the items on my own, but my fiance’s mother did buy me the Samantha Thavasa purse I picked out and some clothing items. I made sure to thank her, and I was very grateful for her generosity.

Shopping haul

My shopping haul – photo by kei

After I found the coat that I wanted, the last thing on my list, I was looking at some shoes but I noticed that my future mother-in-law was sitting down. As much fun as I was having shopping, I realized that she must be tired. So I told her that I was tired, and after we picked up a few ingredients for dinner that night, we went to eat anmitsu あんみつ, a sweet dessert with red beans and ice cream. She said the Anmitsu Mihashi あんみつみはし was the best cafe for anmitsu, and I have to agree.

Anmitsu Mihashi

Anmitsu Mihashi あんみつみはし

The anmitsu was very refreshing after shopping for half the day, and then we headed back home on the train. I think the most interesting part of the day was when we drove back to the house, we saw my fiance’s brother and his brother’s wife walking back to his parents house. His mother told me to get out of the car around the corner of the house, so that they wouldn’t see that we had been out together. I was confused but I agreed, and then she wanted me to walk up to the house as if I were just arriving. My bags were in the back of the car, so I left them and got out. I waited a moment feeling like a conspirator and then walked around the corner and down the street to the house. My fiance’s mother let me in, and a few minutes later the other two arrived and we both acted as if nothing strange was going on. It was the strangest thing I’d experienced, but we never spoke of it again.

My fiance later told me that his mother didn’t want to cause any tension, because she had already bought many things for his brother’s wife, but this was the first time she was giving me any gifts. I’m not sure if his brother’s wife is greedy and easy to displease, but it seems like they all think she is. It seems like his mother didn’t want to have to explain why we didn’t invite her shopping too. I got my bags later, but I still laugh when I think about the situation. Is this what family relationships are like?

What kind of bargain shopping do you like to do around the holidays? Do you go with your family or alone? Any interesting stories of family intrigue that you’d like to share?

Next Up: Japan Diaries Day 30 – Shibuya

Japan Diaries 2014

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