Unscrupulous Shops in Japan Target Tourists As Yen Weakens

Unscrupulous Shops in Japan Target Tourists As Yen Weakens

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Woman withdrawing money from ATM
Picture: EKAKI / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
The weak yen has made it more attractive than ever to travel to Japan - but some restaurants and stores are taking advantage of that. The latest on tourist scams in Japan and how to spot them.

On September 6, 2023, it took 147.65 Japanese yen to equal a single US dollar. This is the weakest the yen has been in 2023, and the trend shows no signs of reversing. After several years of roughly 110-120 yen equaling a dollar, rates began to tip in favor of the dollar in 2022. They have remained that way throughout 2023. [1]

Many US-based tourists have taken advantage of the current weak yen. , visiting Japan while their money goes a long way.

However, some Japanese stores have responded by raising their prices, often to unscrupulous levels. Several stores have begun to scam tourists by including “hidden fees” in their pricing.

Tourists encounter hidden fees

Kaisen donburi bowl
Picture: shige hattori / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

A recent article from local media cited several examples of tourists encountering unexpected fees or unusually high prices while in Japan. Reportedly, one restaurant served a single, possibly rotten, seafood donburi (rice bowl) for 6,500 yen (currently approx. $44 USD.) Another establishment, an izakaya – a restaurant designed for families and large groups to eat casually together – charged 95,000 yen (approx. $646 USD) to serve a family of four. [2]

The article also noted that many restaurants and bars that previously refused to serve non-Japanese speaking foreigners have changed their policy in recent years. Some of these locations have likely done so to use tourists as a source of “easy money.” Even locations that previously served tourists are looking for ways to recoup lost earnings caused by both the weak yen and a decrease in international travel in the wake of the public health crisis.

An increase In tourist traps?

Maid cafe worker advertising her cafe/bar
Picture: Fast&Slow / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Some of the anonymous tourists cited in the article specifically mentioned maid cafes or bars where Japanese women will encourage foreign men to drink with them. However, should the discussion of scamming tourists really include these locations?

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Maid cafes and other similar establishments have long been known for their high fees, charging extra for options like taking a photo with a maid or having maids write cute messages on food. While some of these are arguably designed to target tourists, “tourist traps” exist in nearly every country in the world. Perhaps COVID-related tourism declines have led to a rise in “tourist trap”-like establishments in Japan. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue.

Will The Yen Stay Weak?

Financial news and analysis source Bloomberg currently predicts that the yen will remain weak throughout 2024. It predicts a rate as high as 155 yen to 1 USD. Former vice finance minister Eisuke Sakakibara is particularly pessimistic about the yen’s future. He predicts a rate of 160 to 1 or even higher as US banks work to curb inflation while Japanese banks fail to make similar efforts. Decreases in tourism and trade caused by COVID continue to plague Japan. This is especially true as new variants are on the rise internationally. Several Japanese government officials have stated that they hope to halt the yen’s decline. However, their efforts have so far not borne fruit. [3]

If you plan to travel to Japan in 2023 or 2024, be aware of the exchange rate and the effects it may be having on prices throughout Japan. Look for clearly printed prices when dining out or shopping. If you don’t speak Japanese, consider learning a few phrases you can use to ask about potential hidden fees or upcharges, especially in areas with a high tourist volume and a large amount of “tourist trap” locations.

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Sources

[1] Exchange Rates UK. US to JPY Exchange Rate History. https://www.exchangerates.org.uk/USD-JPY-exchange-rate-history.html

[2] Yahoo Japan. “円安を逆手…少々ぼったくっても気付かれない 紅茶2杯で8000円のメイドカフェ” https://news.yahoo.co.jp/articles/2f89adb2a1c884befc1eadffd9135a570affbaf8

[3] Glass, Mia for Bloomberg. “Top Forecaster JPMorgan Sees Yen Sliding as Far as 155 To the Dollar.” (Subscription required) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-09-06/top-currency-forecaster-says-yen-weakness-isn-t-over-yet#xj4y7vzkg

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Kay Benton

Kay is a longtime Japan enthusiast and former participant in the JET Program. Their favorite thing to do when traveling in Japan is visiting as many onsens as possible.

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