How to acquire new appliances - How to Japanese - January 2024
This is How to Japanese, a monthly newsletter with something about Japan/Japanese and a dash of いろいろ.
I was certain I’d written about 見積もり (mitsumori, estimates) over on the blog at some point in my past life as a project manager at a small translation company. So much of my time there was wrapped up in the estimates that my Japanese counterparts put together, which then enabled me to confirm specific rates for the freelance translators we worked with. But I checked, and apparently I did not.
“Estimate” is the “official” translation, but a more natural English rendering will often be “quote,” and the Japanese for RFQ (request for quote) is most natural as 見積もり依頼 (mitsumori irai). The document itself is a 見積書 (mitumorisho, quote/estimate).
But more recently I’ve been involved with 見積もり of a different variety. The ones that involve purchasing major home appliances. I’m moving to a larger apartment this month, and it’s required upgrading my refrigerator as well as buying—for the first time in Japan—air conditioners.
Even as recently as five years ago, I probably would have pinched pennies and looked for the cheapest option, which is probably Nitori. They have super affordable options that don’t skimp on features or warranty. But I’m in my forties now. I don’t have the financial leeway to buy without complete concern for cost, but I am more interested in being comfortable than I was in the past; I’m less willing to suffer to save a few dollars. Osaka doesn’t get frigid, but I want to be able to heat all the rooms when necessary, and I want to be ready for the summer. The past two years were so bad that in 2023 I kept my AC running all day (on a relatively warm setting) because I was so worried about mold.
So I got a few quotes to see what it would cost to get a brand name air conditioner. Here are my takeaways from the whole process.
- Skip Yodobashi and Bic Camera. The giant stores are just miserable, although maybe this was due to the fact that it was around the holidays. They are useful for getting a baseline estimate for what the cost could be, but I don’t think they’d actually be helpful at making a purchase or servicing an existing unit. Yodobashi’s quote gave me a ceiling on the price, but they had to quote the full price of the appliances. They couldn’t quote the sale price actually displayed on the sticker.
- Quotes are only good for a certain amount of time. For Nitori, it was a month, and I think this was the case for the refrigerator quote I got as well. If you see a price you like, getting an estimate is a nice way to lock it in.
- You can negotiate the cost of many appliances. We finally found a salesperson we were comfortable with at Edion. She took the time to actually walk us through the different options, and she helped us set up an inspection. Once she put together the estimate, it had two prices: the retail price, and then the sale price they were quoting us. Once we had that number, I was able to negotiate the price down by asking for slightly lower end models by the same brand and then by asking for something in a range lower than what we were initially looking at.
- For something like an air conditioner, you have to do a 現地調査 (genchi chōsa, location inspection). You’ll also see this referred to as 下見 (shitami, preliminary inspection, advance look). For things like a fridge, this isn’t necessary, but you do want to have measurements of your kitchen. In our case, once the store technician had a look at our place, the size of the balcony where the outdoor unit would be installed effectively limited us to a single brand. If we’d bought one of the other brands we were considering—and I’m positive that someone at a different store would have sold it to us without checking whether it would’ve fit—we might’ve been left high and dry with an air conditioner that we couldn’t use.
- The negotiation/quote process will likely take several visits to the store. I think we eventually went with three visits, and we made sure to work with the same staff each time so we weren’t starting from scratch. But in the end I think we got units that we’ll be comfortable with from a store that’s big enough to be able to discount but small enough to offer reliable service and warranty. I bought my washer from Edion last year, and when there was a small leak from the connection with the faucet, they came twice to fix it, so I can recommend working with them if there’s one near you.
Apologies for the short post this month and for skimping slightly on the language side of things, but hopefully this is helpful to someone. I’m giving myself a little reprieve with the move upcoming. Do you have any horror stories/victories at electronics stores in Japan?
I’ll supplement this month’s post over on the blog and podcast with some thoughts about Murakami. I managed to get another (very affordable!) copy of the Birnbaum translation of Norwegian Wood, so I’ll write about that process. And, very quietly, the new translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World seems to have been given a release date, so I’ll discuss that as well.
The Washington Post has a new podcast called American Carnage about political violence, and the first season is on John Brown. I remember learning about him in school, but it’s incredible to get more detail about exactly how large a figure he was at the time. I mean, he met both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass! This also gives me an excuse to share Oscar Peterson and Milt Jackson’s version of “John Brown’s Body,” the best rendition of all time.
I was in Tottori over the New Year’s holiday, so my 初詣 (hatsumōde, first shrine visit of the year) as at the Yōkai Shrine in Sakaiminato, Mizuki Shigeru’s hometown. Worth a visit! Unfortunately the museum was closed for renovation, so I’ll have to make another trip.
Not sure how many people this will help, but it is possible to pay down a Japanese credit card before the payment date. In the U.S., I was able to clear my debt whenever I wanted at the touch of a button on an app. In Japan, however, I had to go to the credit card website, put in an application to pay early, specify a date I would make a bank transfer, and then make the bank transfer via an ATM. This meant I covered the cost of the bank transfer, but within 24 hours the payment had been reflected and my spending limit was reset. The only option was for me to pay down the entire credit at the time of application, so it wasn’t very flexible.