The branding of JC

There comes a time in the life of most ex-pats with a Japanese significant other that he has to step up and prove his worth and his love for his partner by running the commercial gauntlet. I’m talking about the greatest expense of your life; not the wedding ring, not the first home but the brand item. A phrase to strike fear in the heart of any wage-earner and glee in the bosom of the bank manager; the brand item is any item you can think of, though usually an accessory of sorts, which somehow gets elevated from purchasable commodity to unaffordable luxury by the clever inclusion of a brand-specific pattern and a little metal dongle with the name of said brand on it. A wallet shouldn’t set you back a chunk of cash, a briefcase shouldn’t cost you more than a month’s salary, but if there is a little metal tag that says “Prada” or the colour is a kind of burgundy-brown with the letters LV interwoven, these rules fly out the window.

For me the time came around the birthday of my wife, and her increased frequency of hint-dropping that I had decided to bite the bullet and shell out for a nice birthday present, with the distinct hope it should put me in the pink for at least a decade. On a shopping trip I mentioned we may want to visit that Luis Vuitton shop so she could show me that purse (as in “wallet for girls”) she had been telling me about. Just before that I had sneakily gone to the ATM to extract a significant bundle of notes which I mistakenly hoped would cover the bill.

We found the nearest store and walked into a gold-lit Temple of Commerce with small, glass display cases along the walls and several shelves tastefully situated along the high walls showing a variety of supposedly every-day objects; suitcases, briefcases, handbags, umbrellas. A passer-by might have mistaken it for a museum of sorts, as the displays all exuded a sense of wondrous awe and immeasurable expense. A Luis Vuitton suitcase, for example, isn’t displayed as a “handy device for carrying luggage on trips” but as a “Luis Vuitton Suitcase”, with a capital S.

As to this day I have trouble deciphering Japanese values, what with them being quite large, running into the tens of thousands for fairly typical items, it took me a short stare to realize the cost of some of the items on display. From a distance 40,000 Yen looks not dissimilar to 400,000 Yen but the difference is very real in the monetary sense. Before I could utter a “Jesus Christ!” I notice the wife looking into a glass case and nearby sales women eyeing us like an ambush of tigers surveying a wounded gazelle.

Within seconds a demure woman with a little too much make-up sidles over and points her overbite at us. I hate to use the term “bucktoothed” as it is such an unpleasant and mostly inaccurate racial stereotype, but this woman could de-crust a slice of toast in a single bite. She quickly switches to hard-core salesperson mode. She shoots off a few questions at the wife and before you know it several display models are laying on top of the glass case and two or three catalogues are open and facing us. This woman is in for the kill.

In English my wife explains to me that this purse was the kind of thing she was thinking of. Not this one, of course, but something like this. Or maybe that one. The “that one” purse is expensive, but the “this one” is, if you pardon my French, fucking unaffordable. “Um, so that one,” I venture, “looks pretty good, doesn’t it?” My wife, not aware of my plans naively goes “hmm, but this one is larger, which is what I was looking for.” The sales woman tries to engage us personally, with the usual “what is your country” and all that. I am not falling for it. Once we have located the specimen the wife likes most I drop the bombshell and gallantly, but with a slight quiver in my voice say “we’ll buy it now!” My wife is pleasantly shocked, the saleswoman delighted. She makes some comments about what a nice guy I am but I give her a look that I hope conveys “give it a rest, deary. You’ve succeeded, okay?”

While I am trying to remove the dusty padlock from my wallet she slides over a small tray on which I am supposed to lay my money, or if I had had a better job, my credit card. This is the standard in Japan; you never hand over money but put it on the little tray provided. This immediately circumvents my natural muscular instincts and avoids the embarrassment of her having to pry the notes out of my death grip. She also slides over a calculator with the amount keyed in; another common symptom in Japanese consumerism when the cash register is out of view. This, again, goes against my natural instincts of saying “how much???” as all she’d have to do is point at the calculator and say “um, that much”. They sure take all the fun out of being tight-fisted.

She disappears with my precious money and tells us to look around a little more, under the pretence that she’ll pack up the purse for us. Obviously she is under the misapprehension we’ll buy more goods. “Oh, my dearest, I see you have your eye on that handbag too. Well, why not? It’s only more money than I make in a month!” Not bloody likely. After a heart-stopping jog around the rest of the store I park us near the counter and make deliberate “we’re waiting” stances. After a lengthy period she returns with an admittedly beautifully presented case and carry bag as well as my change, which I grab with ungentlemanly fervor. I rush us out of the store until we’re a safe distance away, at which point I start breathing again.

The money I had previously extracted from the ATM, together with some crumpled notes I still had in my wallet just barely covered the cost. I keep complaining how I am not going to buy a PS3 at that price but then find myself spending more than that on a frickin’ purse. At least this should put me in the clear for a while, and whenever the wife gives me grief for not cleaning up or coming home drunk I can just subtly remind her of my extreme sacrifice on this day.

Brand goods… I tell you. The scourge of any male with a Japanese woman to keep happy. But I’ve done my bit now. Never again. Good grief.


  1. My condolences on the loss of your greenbacks. Congratulations in getting into the pink(for a limited time).

  2. AND they expect to be put in charge of the finances? Not bloody likely, with these values!

    My last girlfriend told me that she thought the girls swooning over brand-name items were pretty impractical. She was definitely a keeper. ^_^

  3. You fool, Phoenix! She may SAY that, but you get yourself a second mortgage and buy her a LV handbag and she'd LOVE it. Don't believe the lies!

  4. "But I’ve done my bit now. Never again. Good grief."

    Famous last words...

    Ahh, the plight of the lifer... hehehe

  5. Haha, good read. I went through this myself recently. Buing a Coach bag fro my missus. Very expensive, but really, at the end of the day, well worth it for the happiness it brought. Can't understand it myself of course. I'm happy with a paper bag and some paper clips.

  6. Very funny! I'll ask my wife to read this.