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They Thought I Was a Tourist

July 9th, 2012

There’s a small shop in Akihabara called “Akiba Palette Town” which is known for its deals. They are very much the kind of shop that has cardboard boxes out front with cheap merchandise inside. They sell old computers for a few thousand yen a pop, and have all kinds of used CPUs, RAM, and other junk that’s fun to rummage around, and sometimes buy.

A few weeks ago, I went there and saw that they had some nice extras I wanted to pick up for teaching, including a USB3 cable (with the funky new peripheral connector) for ¥200, a few SATA cables for ¥100 each, and a VGA cable for ¥100 also. When I came inside to buy them, I was pleasantly surprised: they gave me half off on everything except the VGA, and the above came ¥300. And they probably still made quite the profit on that.

Today, I was leading a group of students around for our Computer Making Club, showing them the back streets in-between our purchases of parts for the club’s computer this semester. I figured I’d pick up the same collection of cables again, as I could use a few spares and regretted not having bought more the previous time.

So, I put them on the counter and the guy started adding them up. I was wondering what was going on as I saw some strangely high numbers on the tally screen, but figured they had their own odd accounting system. But then the total came up: ¥1380.

¥1380?? At first I thought it was a big mistake, and then I asked the guy how much for the USB3 cable, as an example. He told me it was ¥500. A guy sitting next to him confirmed that.

The box outside was clearly marked ¥200.

I just left the cables there and left, waving them off with an incredulous smile. No sale.

Because I figured out what had happened: when I had come in before, I was wearing different clothes, and looked the part of an otaku who knew what stuff was worth. This time, I had a t-shirt with an American college logo and a cap from our trip to Europe.

They had read me as a tourist and were actually trying to rip me off!!

I was more amused than anything else. Had they charged me full price I would have paid. But more than double? Fifteen bucks for a few pieces of crap they charged me four dollars for before?

Next time I go to that part of town, I intend to try again–the exact same items–and see what they try to charge me then.

I mean, wow. I’ve had shopkeepers try to rip me off before, but never in Japan, never so blatantly. It was a shock, albeit a transparent and amusing rip-off.

Of course, it was nothing to the crap we ran into in Greece; one merchant apparently thought I was unable to count, short-changed me, and when I called her on it, took back my change and then gave me even less back.

However, I did not expect that in Japan. Well, live and learn.

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