Mr. Sato takes a trip to GO12, easily the strangest place in the city to buy a microwave.

“The office microwave is broken, so we need someone to go out and buy a new one.”

That was the situation our boss, Yoshio, laid out for the staff at SoraNews24 headquarters. It should have been a simple, ordinary errand to run…but our crack reporter Mr. Sato volunteered for the task, and if you know the guy, you also know that projects rarely stay ordinary when he’s involved.

So instead of walking to the Bic Camera electronics store down the street from us in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, or using this as an excuse to head over to the Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara and hang out in the otaku wonderland for the afternoon, Mr. Sato ride the train to the Kamata neighborhood, then walked from the station to GO12, a completely unmanned electronics and appliance shop.

▼ “Unmanned shop” and “Open 24 hours” proclaim the sign, since if there’s no one working there, it never has to close.

Sometimes in the Japanese countryside you can find unmanned fruit and vegetable shops. They’re essentially little produce stands where local farmers offer their crops for purchase on the honor system, a system that would be considered a recipe for trouble in many places outside low-crime Japan. GO12 works on more or less the same format, but even with Japan’s reputation as a law-abiding society, it’s pretty startling to step into a shop filled with rows of TVs, refrigerators, and the like with no one guarding them.

It’s not like the merchandise is locked inside a vending machine, chained down, or otherwise secured, either. It’s all just out on the shelves, like it would be at a store with clerks, guards, and other human employees keeping an eye on it.

And while a would-be crook is unlikely to grab a washing machine and make a break for it, GO12 has plenty of less-bulky items too, like hot water kettles and hair dryers. Still, GO12 trusts everyone to be on their best behavior, and though it’s only been open since last month, shoplifters haven’t picked the place clean, and Mr. Sato had plenty of purchasing options to choose from.

The store’s stock is made up entirely of second-hand items with model years between 2014 and 2019. Not all of them come with their owner’s manuals, but items with necessary installation instructions have print-outs attached.

GO12 has a flat pricing structure, where every item within a category has the same price. TVs, for example, are all 15,000 yen (US$136) before tax, washers and fridges 10,000 yen. Kettles and hair dryers are 1,000 and 600 yen, respectively, and microwaves, the reason Mr. Sato was here in the first place, are 5,000 yen. When you’ve picked out what you want to buy, you go to the store’s check-out tablet and tap the category of item you’re purchasing.

Each individual item has a numbered tag on it, and on the next screen you tap the button with the corresponding number.

▼ Mr. Sato was buying the microwave with the #1 tag.

Then you’re asked to select whether you’re paying by cash, credit card, electronic money, or a smartphone app. Pick your method, make your payment, get your receipt, and you’re now the item’s new owner, and can walk right out with it (free three-hour handcart rentals are also available for transporting heavy items home).

The whole process was smooth and seamless…but still left Mr. Sato feeling strangely guilty. Yeah, he’d paid for his new microwave, but the absence of any human interaction somehow produced a twinge of nervousness as he carried it out of the store like a burglar with an aversion to cold leftovers.

▼ He felt like taping a sign to his shirt that read “I didn’t steal this!”

Still, he made it back to this office without getting stopped by the cops, and now employees and guests at SoraNews24 HQ can enjoy piping hot food and drink courtesy of our new-to-us Twinbird-brand microwave. Plus, the next time we find ourselves lying in bed in the middle of the night and struck with the urge to run right out and buy a new refrigerator, now we know exactly where to go.

Shop information
GO12 (“Gojuni”) / ゴジユウニ
Address: Tokyo-to, Ota-ku, Nishi Kamata 5-27-15
Open 24 hours

Photos ©SoraNews24
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