Our chance meeting with the mobile merchant.

Last Saturday morning our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun got up, changed into his going-out clothes, and went for a shopping run to pick up breakfast, groceries, and other supplies. As he was walking down the street, though, a very unusual car drove by.

Actually, the car itself, a sub-compact Suzuki, wasn’t no unusual. What was strange, though, were the handwritten signs taped to the rear side windows and trunk deck glass, which said:

“I’ve got masks. 110-550 yen.”

▼ It looks like once upon a time the masks started at 100 yen, before a modest price bump.

Shortly after the car drove past Sanjun, the driver pulled over to the side of the road and parked for a few moments, then moved about 100 meters (328 feet) down the road and repeated the process.

While you’ll sometimes find trucks selling roasted sweet potatoes or laundry poles cruising around Japanese suburbs, we’ve never heard of one selling masks, and especially with Japan’s recently enacted law banning for-profit mask resales, the whole thing looked pretty shady. Sure enough, no one was approaching the car to see about making a purchase…except, of course, for P.K.

As P.K. walked up to the car, a man who appeared to be in his mid-50s hopped out of the driver’s seat, and the following conversation ensued:

P.K.: “The sign says the prices are from 110 to 550 yen [US$1.03 to $5.14], but is that for one mask?”

Mask Man: “Ah, yeah. But the 550 yen is for cloth masks, and I’m sold out, so all I have are the 110-yen paper ones.”

P.K.: “So that’s 110 yen for one mask?”

Mask Man: “Yes, that’s right.”

That’s a pretty big premium over the regular price masks sell for, and P.K. wondered how well Mask Man was doing with this business model.

P.K.: “So, are you selling a lot?”

Mask Man: “Yeah, well, you know, sort of…”

P.K.: “I see you’ve got a whole box in this suitcase in the trunk, but you’re selling the masks individually?”

Mask Man: “Uh, yeah.”

P.K.: “You’ve got your phone number written on the signs on your car too. Do you have repeat customers?”

Mask Man: “Hmm…maybe…”

Looking at the car’s trunk, P.K. estimated that Mask Man had maybe about 30 paper masks or so in stock, which would cap his revenue at 3,300 yen (US$30.84). Between that and the fact that Mask Man was out hustling on a Saturday morning, he didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a speculative stockpile running a get-rich-quick scheme, but more a down-on-his-luck guy trying to make ends meet. Sure, this could all be part of his act, and maybe when he parks his Suzuki at home, it’s right next to his gold-plated Ferrari in the private garage of his mask merchant palace.

But P.K. figures it’s much more likely that Mask Man is going through a rough patch professionally, perhaps with work at his day job drying up because of the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the economy. So he bought a mask, hoping to do something to help out, and also hoping that things work out for Mask Man.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]