Bottoms up: Discount takeout sushi less than meets the eye

January 19th, 2012 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

The other day we came across this blog post reporting on misleading marketing by an American company called Banzai with regard to the photographs it uses on its packaging. It’s a common complaint: Products always look larger — or, at least, better — in the promo materials than they do in reality.

Reality vs. fantasy

It struck a nerve since we had just taken advantage of a limited campaign for cut-price takeout sushi from a certain national chain. In the flyers for the campaign, which continues through Jan. 20, the food looks particularly inviting, and among the things we ordered was the ¥590 Hokkaido-style chirashi sushi, a tray divided into three sections, each of which contained a bed of rice covered with various toppings. In the store display case it seemed equal to the size indicated in the ads, which even included the exact width and length of the box in millimeters, but once we got it home and dug in we discovered that what looked OK in two dimensions was deficient in the third. The layer of rice in all three compartments was barely three grains thick. This is a marketing trick called soko-age, or “raising the bottom.”

Of course, we should have guessed that ¥590 was way too cheap for anything labeled “sushi,” especially since chain sushi restaurants have a reputation for skimping. The neta, or slice of flesh that goes on the top of the ball of rice, tends to be thinner than it appears to be in the display cases and advertisements, which are always careful to point out that the photos provided are only “images,” a vague enough word in English but when used in Japanese is usually closer in meaning to “imagination.”

We should point out that the quality of the ingredients is usually satisfactory. The whole point is that “bargain” mean you’re getting less than meets the eye, especially when it comes to chain restaurants and takeout businesses. The same goes for hotels. For years, any “limited time bargain” room we booked turned out to seem much more cramped than the room that the hotel used in its Internet advertisements, so we’ve come to understand that you do, in fact, get what you pay for. If you reserve a cheaper room, it will likely look cheap when you arrive, regardless of the visual representation. This should be obvious since such ads for bargain rate accommodations invariably state, in small type, that the guest will not be able to choose the room.

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One Response

  1. The amount of deceptive packaging amazed me when I first arrived here, but I’m used to it now. Have you noticed that some convenience store sandwiches only have filling on the part that shows, meaning that they are half empty? And sometimes when you buy a punnet of strawberries only the ones on top are large and red, the ones underneath are not.

    Doesn’t always apply only to bargain deals, either. A few years back I took my son to spend Christmas at a resort hotel in western Japan. The pics in the glossy brochure promised me a large room with a huge, ceiling-high Christmas tree and a personal visit from Santa (a plump, jolly looking man with twinkling blue eyes). Well, the room was certainly large enough, but the tree was extremely short and puny. “Santa” was a skinny little Japanese teenager in a red suit who was clearly petrified of me. Later my son confided in me “Mummy, Santa must have been very cold, because when we shook hands he was shaking!”

    On the whole though, it is true that what you pay for is what you get. I don’t see how it could be any other way.


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