With “inbound pricing” becoming a bigger issue, Shibuya seafood restaurant offers discounted prices for domestic customers.

Tamatebako is a new restaurant that opened last month in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood, not far from the internationally famous Shibuya scramble intersection. Tamatebako is a seafood restaurant, and rather than a la carte orders, the place operates as an all-you-can-eat buffet, with some 60 different types of seafood to dish up and enjoy.

As such, the pricing is simple, with a flat fee for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink plan. As you might expect, that price varies depending on the time of day, with weekdays and lunchtime being less expensive than nights and weekends. What you might not expect, though, is that Tamatebako’s prices are also dependent on where you’re coming to the restaurant from with locals being charged less, and foreign tourists charged more.

Here’s how Tamatebako’s prices break down:
● Weekday lunch
5,478 yen (US$36) for Japanese/Japan resident customers
6,578 yen for foreign travelers
● Monday-Thursday dinner
6,578 yen for Japanese/Japan resident customers
7,678 yen for foreign travelers
● Weekend/holiday lunch
6,578 yen for Japanese/Japan resident customers
7,678 yen for foreign travelers
● Friday/weekend/holiday dinner
7,678 yen for Japanese/Japan resident customers
8,778 yen for foreign travelers

▼ Tamatebako can be seen at the point queued up in this video.

So called “inbound pricing” has become a hot topic in the Japanese restaurant industry these days. Japan is experiencing a massive surge in overseas visitor numbers, brought about by a combination of pent-up demand from Japan’s extended border closure during the pandemic and the yen falling to its lowest value in decades, making the country a more affordable international travel destination than it’s ever been in many people’s lifetimes. With the exchange rate so firmly in their favor, many foreign tourists who’re finally getting the opportunity to take that trip to Japan they’ve been dreaming about for the past few years are happy to splurge once they get here. One result of this has been some restaurants offering items that the local Japanese population is going to clearly feel are ridiculously expensive or overpriced, but which apparently enough inbound foreign tourists are gobbling up to keep on the menu.

▼ Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market has become infamous for its inbound-don inbound-priced sushi bowls.

At the same time, the weak yen is putting a pinch on the spending power of people who live in Japan and get paid in yen. Hardly a week goes by without a restaurant, food maker, or manufacturer of some other daily necessity like toilet paper or detergent announcing that they’re raising prices, often with the increased in-yen cost of imported ingredients/raw materials cited as the justification. However, with Japan having been a near-zero-inflation economy for so long, the concept of regular cost-of-living increases to employee wages is nonexistent.

It’s against this backdrop that Tamatebako’s owner, Shogo Yonemitsu, came to the decision to structure the restaurant’s prices with two tiers, one for locals and one for foreign tourists. “I realize that not everyone will be in support of the idea [of different prices],” Yonemitsu says, and acknowledges that it may not be something that larger, chain restaurants can implement, but says that for a smaller enterprise like Tamatebako, it’s something he felt they should do.

It’s worth noting the exact wording of the restaurant’s pricing policy. First, between the higher for-foreigners and lower for-locals prices, the higher one is the official price, with the lower presented as a “discount.” Second, the discounted price is available for “Japanese people and Japan residents,” so Japanese nationality/ethnicity isn’t a requirement, although it would seem that if you’re a Japanese national who’s moved overseas and has come back to Japan to visit, you’re still eligible for the cheaper price.

While not unheard of in less prosperous Asian nations, charging higher prices to foreigners generally isn’t something that’s been done in Japan. Tamatebako’s goal appears to be to strike a balance between reaping the higher profits posed by the inbound tourism boom without pricing out local residents, so that it’ll still have a customer base if/when the boom dies down, and it comes on the heels of the governor of Osaka Prefecture floating the idea of a special foreign tourist tax.

Incidentally, Tamatebako is named after the tamatebako from Japanese folktale Urashima Taro, about a fisherman who travels to the underwater palace of the Sea Dragon. Within the story, the tamatebako is a jeweled box that Taro receives upon leaving the palace, with a warning to never open it. When he eventually does give into the temptation and open it, things don’t go well, partially paralleling the Pandora’s box myth. It’ll be interesting to see if the Tamatebako restaurant’s dual-price system works out better for them.

Restaurant information
Tamatebako / 玉手箱
Address: Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Udagawacho 33-12 J+R Building Side R basement level 1
東京都渋谷区宇田川町33-12 J+RビルサイドR B1
Open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Source: TBS News Dig, Tamatebako, Gurunavi
Top image: Pakutaso
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