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Japan consumers, sellers confused over different sales tax for eat-in, takeaway

A customer buys take out at the 8% tax rate, while other customers eating inside the store will be charged 10%, in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward on Oct. 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

The Oct. 1 sales tax hike has left many consumers and storekeepers in shopping districts and other areas across Japan perplexed, as different rates now apply to food eaten on the premises of a vendor and items bought to takeaway.

The tax was raised from 8% to 10% for food bought to consume on the spot, but takeout food is currently sold at a reduced consumption tax rate of 8%, even for the same items sold at the same store. In contrast, some customers seemed not bothered because a lot of stores only raised the price of items with cheap unit prices by a few yen.

Tontan, a restaurant serving rice bowls topped with grilled pork, in Togoshi Ginza -- a shopping street in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward famous for its street food -- raised the price of "butadon" pork bowls and meat-wrapped rice balls by 30 yen for eat-in and 20 yen for takeout.

Tontan's store manager stated, "The rise in purchase price is reflected in the selling price, but I apologized to regulars and other customers for raising the price."

A 62-year-old woman working at a nearby dentist, who bought a butadon to go, commented, "It's confusing when the price is different for eat-in food and takeaway. I wish all items would be sold at a tax rate of 9%." Meanwhile, a woman who dined at the restaurant said, "I don't really care because it's just a 2% increase."

Tontan did not join a list of eateries using a system to provide points-based rebates for cashless payments, recommended by the government, and only accepts payments in cash. The store manager explained, "Since average spending per customer is low, there will be no profits if we bear the credit card processing fee."

A nearby Japanese pub raised prices so that the same food items are sold at the same price whether a customer eats in or takes out. The manager of the establishment said, "Introducing different prices could become a source of trouble, and it's also bothersome to have odd numbers."

A separate restaurant selling fried chicken did not raise the price of any food items on its menu regardless of the tax hike, claiming it didn't have time. A man managing the eatery said, "We didn't get ready in time to raise prices. We'll wait and see the change in the purchase price and think what to do."

In the western Japan city of Osaka, many stores serving "takoyaki" octopus balls are charging the same sales tax for eat-in and takeaway to save time and trouble in explaining the difference in the rate.

One such store is Creo-ru in Osaka's Minami entertainment district that is popular with tourists. The shop kept the price of a pack of six takoyaki at 480 yen, which means Creo-ru will effectively discount its top selling product when buyers dine inside the store.

Some customers consume food wrapped to take home at the store's eat-in space, which Creo-ru apparently thought could cause trouble. A 28-year-old customer who came from Tokyo and lined up for food stated, "It's hard to choose if I should eat inside or take out so it's better if the prices are the same."

Meanwhile, most of the shops selling Umegae Mochi rice cakes, a local delicacy, alongside a road approaching Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Dazaifu in southwestern Japan, raised the price of their products due to a surge in the cost of ingredients. However, some shops took different approaches to prices for customers that eat on the spot or take items home.

One such store called Sakadoya began charging 130 yen, including the 8% tax, per rice cake for takeout items from Oct. 1. People who consume the food products inside the store have to pay 132 yen that includes the 10% sales tax.

A 54-year-old joint operator at the shop explained, "By strictly setting different prices due to the sales tax, we would like customers who eat inside, even if they only buy one (rice cake), to have tea and relax."

Another shop called Teradaya reduced the base price for food so that Umegae Mochi can be consumed at 130 yen, including tax, even when customers choose to dine in. The 57-year-old head of Teradaya said he "considered clarity" when setting the price. The shop, however, removed a bench that was situated near the entrance of the store to prevent customers who bought food wrapped to dine out from eating on the spot.

(Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, Tokyo City News Department; Yuta Shibayama, Osaka City News Department; and Emi Aoki, Kyushu News Department)

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