When we were shoplifters


Last night we went to 7-Eleven to get some essentials. My daughter had a little children’s shopping basket that she wanted to carry.

To the amusement of a Japanese man standing next to her, my daughter filled her basket up with several bags of edamame, soybeans (see photo below). My son was talking to me and simultaneously swinging from side to side as if he was dancing. While he was doing this my daughter walked passed him and somehow my son managed to get his foot trapped inside my daughter’s basket. The basket crashed to the floor (with my son’s foot still in it), my daughter fell over next to the basket and I noticed my son had managed to pop open one bag of edamame with one of his flipper-like feet. Edamame pods went everywhere. My husband and I were baffled as to what the hell had just happened. I mean, you need pretty precise timing if you attempt to get your swinging foot into a moving basket, let alone when you don’t attempt to do it. We picked up the edamame that had fallen out and put it them in my handbag. You might be wondering why anyone would put rubbish in their handbag. Well, I’ll tell you why: It’s surprisingly difficult to find a bin in Japan – it’s easier to find a vending machine selling sake, beer or whisky than a public bin in this country.

Edamame pods

Edamame pods

Anyway, we proceeded to the counter to pay for some bits and bobs and 5 bags of edamame, one of which was opened and half empty.

The man who had been amused by our daughter piling the shop’s whole stock of edamame into her basket, was in the queue in front of us. When he was paying, he looked into my daughter’s basket and smiled. So, I felt like I had to explain ourselves a little. With my poor Japanese I said: She likes edamame (‘Kanojo wa edamame ga suki desu’) the man grinned even more. I don’t know whether it was because the grammar of my sentence was wrong or because he thought that it was peculiar that a 3-year old would love a Japanese snack that is typically consumed in bars.

While I was ‘talking’ to the man, my daughter had taken two edamame pods out of the opened bag and had started to eat them.

I took the basket off my daughter, put it on the counter, and handed the opened edamame bag to the cashier. He looked at me with an angry expression of disbelief on this face. It was not a friendly look. He was in a state of shock! I quickly added in English: ‘We’ll pay for it, thank you.’ But he just stares at me. I don’t know what to do. I hold the edamame bag in my hand and try to signal that we are planning to pay for it and will take the bag with us. But no. He keeps staring at me with this weird look on his face. Eventually he says in Japanese that it’s forbidden to open packaging before it’s been paid, although he didn’t have to say it. I kind of figured that out already by just looking at his face. I tried to explain to him that it was an accident – that we did not mean to open it. To which his response is to point at my daughter eating two edamame pods. F**k! Our children have a real talent of making our life interesting.

Because my Japanese skills are as good as your standard Japanese person’s Finnish skills, I just had to repeat ‘We will pay for it’. At this point there are several people behind us waiting to be served, and another till is opened to serve those customers. At this point I am starting to think that the psycho shop assistant might call the police! Please – surely not for a bag of edamame! I mean, are we on some Japanese candid camera or is this a bad dream?

While standing there, I seemed to recall that in Japan the police can arrest you for 30 days without letting you have your ‘one phone call’. That thought got me worried.

Eventually my husband at the back of the queue raises his voice and in a firm manner says: ‘We…want…it!’ The guy looks at my husband and reluctantly starts ringing the till. Hooray! We managed to escape prosecution for shoplifting! I felt like going back to the shop to buy some wine to celebrate our slim avoidance of Japanese law enforcement, but I didn’t really want to stay in the shop any longer than we had to just in case the shop assistant changed his mind.

In an alternate universe I would have been the lady in this picture.

In an alternate universe I would have been the lady in this picture (being detained by 10 policemen).

In many places in Europe, like in Finland and England, shops do not particularly like people opening food packaging and eating the food before they have paid for it. BUT people do it anyway. And I believe the crucial question in countries like Finland and England is: ‘Will you pay for the food you consumed in the shop? If the answer is ‘yes’ you don’t really get much hassle.

In case there are any mums or dads (or greedy adults with the patience level of a 3-year old) reading this that are planning a trip to Japan, a word of advice:

Unless you want to risk spending 30 days in a Japanese cell, it might be advisable not to consume food in the shop until you’ve paid for it – unless you are really desperate to eat some edamame, of course.

14 thoughts on “When we were shoplifters

  1. Unless they have a rule/law in Japan by which you pay for food in restaurants before you eat it, I can’t see how this should be a big deal. You were obviously paying for it — what a non-issue! I let my son have food when he wants it while shopping (unless it would result in a mess, like edamame 😉 … in which case I have to offer him a less messy choice) — otherwise everyone would have to endure very loud wailing. I love how your husband raised his voice — that is my strategy for getting Brits to do stuff/snap out of it in official situations. Very effective!

    • We’ve done it before in England and Finland – open bags of food in a shop to keep the kids happy for the duration of the food shop. In fact, it was essential when they were little! So, yeah I think the guy in the 7-Eleven overreacted. Perhaps I should have told the guy that I thought it was a restaurant 😉

  2. Not really shoplifters! I was worried that you found an other item in your bag at home that you did not pay. I fully understand that kids could be so tempted to open up a package of something. I believe that I have opened up an ice-cream for my daughter but kept the paper and paid it at the till. Yes, the woman at the till looked at me with some anticipation but anyway what else can you do if your kid is tired and you are tired.

    • A couple of months ago I did walk out of a different 7-Eleven with my daughter holding a bunch of bananas and a corn on the cob that were not paid for! We went back to return them, but because of my poor Japanese skills, instead of confronting the shop assistant, I just dumped them on the closest shelf and walked out again.

  3. My daughter once got taken to one side outside a shop in the West Country, just because she had the misfortune to walk out of the shop with one or two shop-lifters at the same time. She then had to drag all the receipts out of the bag to prove she had bought them legitimately in the shop!!


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