Let the price gouging begin!

With all the talk of scandals and Sailor Moon, it is often overlooked that this Olympic and Paralympic Games is also on-track to be one of, if not the most costly event of its kind in history, with current estimates running between 10 and 30 billion US dollars. Add on to that the fact that revenue from the games has largely evaporated due to COVID-19 restrictions, and you’re left with a veritable black hole of debt that is so dense no profit can escape from its dark gravitational pull.

So it would seem that in an effort to help cut costs, sights have been set on the captive audience of media personnel. To cover the Olympics, the exhibition center Tokyo Big Sight has been converted into the Main Press Center (MPC) of the Games. Recently, vending machines inside the complex have been reportedly selling 500-milliliter (17-ounce) bottles of Coca-Cola for 280 yen ($2.54). This is far above the standard street price of about 150 yen ($1.36).

▼ In my neck of the woods you can get from 500 milliliters to 1 liter of beer from a vending machine for about the same amount

A few days earlier, a French journalist tweeted their displeasure over a meal served at the MPC which consisted of “rubbery meat, cold buns, and sloppy presentation” all for 1,600 yen (US$14.51). Granted, cold buns aren’t such a rare sight in Japan, where cooler foods are more widely enjoyed than other countries, but “rubbery” and “sloppy” aren’t words often used to describe food here, regardless of whether it be from a fancy restaurant or a convenience store.

For comparison, we once interviewed a Japanese McDonald’s worker who recounted the panic attacks caused when someone ordered a teriyaki burger, simply because they were the hardest to neatly assemble. If that’s not enough, here’s a typical Japanese prison meal which is both considerably larger and more well presented than the food seen at the MPC, at a cost of only 800 yen ($7.25).

People looking in from outside Japan might not see this as a big deal, but it really is fairly excessive compared to similar cases in Japan. To illustrate, we should look no further than the gold standard of price gouging that occurs at nearby Tokyo Disneyland. Even there, a bottle of Coke would only cost 200 yen ($1.81) and you could get a Jack Skellington-shaped teriyaki chicken and egg sandwich along with some grape jelly and a drink for a more reasonable price than what’s on offer at the MPC .

▼ All for 1,050 yen ($9.52)

There is also the fact that the MPC is located in a venue well-known to netizens for its biannual Comiket conventions, which draw crowds so huge they form their own weather patterns. Many of the people who experienced Big Sight’s prices have testified in online comments that it was never so much for so little before now.

“Rip off!”
“It’s like those vending machines you find at the top of mountains.”
“I think the mountaintop machines are 300 yen ($2.72).”
“Even in tourist traps it’s not that much, and Coca-Cola is supposed to be a sponsor.”
“Shut up guys… We need the money.”
“I’ve never seen it that expensive at Big Sight.”
“They’ll squeeze every yen they can.”
“It seems expensive to us, but coming from other countries people probably don’t notice as much.”

As the last comment suggests, whoever set those prices might have been counting on Japan’s notoriously lower purchasing power over the past half decade or so, and figured people from abroad would barely notice the above-average hikes. For example, according to The Economist’s “Big Mac Index” a Big Mac in Japan costs 37.2 percent less than one in the US, so even if the price were to suddenly double here, someone visiting from America probably wouldn’t even flinch at it.

▼ A U.S. Big Mac would probably equate to a Japanese Giga Big Mac

In addition, since everyone working at the MPC is a reporter in the field, they’ll likely have some sort of per diem set-up with their organization. So in essence, these jacked-up prices are hopefully coming out of the deep pockets of large media conglomerates than the people themselves.

I suppose the one thing to take out of all this for anyone visiting Japan from abroad is: If the prices here seem reasonable to you, you’re probably paying too much.

Source: Tokyo Sports, The Economist, My Game News Flash
Top image: Paktuaso
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