Japanese in Overdrive

By Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

I have always been fascinated by the shops on Jl. Legian. How can they all sell the same stuff? And a lot of it is just cheap junk. Who would buy this stuff?

Well, I’ll tell you who.

“I give you good price,” says the Balinese woman, begging us to come into her shop. “Oh really?” said my two friends, dragging me into the store with her. My friends were on holiday. They only had five days in Bali, and they were Japanese.


The Japanese have their own style when it comes to traveling, and the Indonesians know this. As my Japanese friend says, “It’s your vacation! You should treat yourself to the best of everything: the best hotel and the best food. Indulge yourself – shop!”

This is in contrast to Westerners, who tend to take longer vacations and might choose to stay in a losmen.

Imagine having only five days of vacation once a year. That’s barely enough time to eat and buy some local products, let alone do any sightseeing. The result? Japanese in Overdrive.

My Japanese friends were not interested in the sea, since Japan is an island country and most people grow up near the sea. No, what impressed these girls most about the Bali island paradise was the shopping.

Giving in to the slightest suggestion of the local hawkers to “Come look, ma’am,” the girls did exactly as they were told. They readily identified themselves as shop-o-holics to the hawkers (in Japanese!), and they shopped indiscriminately. They were like children in a candy store – except with enough money to buy the whole store. And they did.

They bought clothes they would probably never wear, multiple gifts for the same people back home and cheap knickknacks galore. Cha-ching!

I often lost track of the Japanese in Overdrive as they were regularly consumed by crowds of hawkers pushing their wares. At one point, I suspected the paparazzi would arrive thinking they were celebrities. And this was just the first day!

These girls were anxious to taste the local food. Forget eating fresh fish on the beach at Jimbaran; they eat fish all the time in Japan. These girls wanted beef. And they ate beef at every meal, as well as taking part in local exotics such as goat satay, and foreign exotics such as lamb chops. “Enok!” they screamed with delight.

The second day we spent going back to some of the same stores to buy more, and on the third day, they wanted to go to the outdoor market in Ubud. On the fourth day, we went back to the outdoor market Ubud. The fifth day, they claimed they could not fit any more in their suitcases, but that did not stop them from spending. One wanted her hair braided like Whoopi Goldberg’s, and the other wanted a temporary tattoo. In addition, on a whim, they would get their toenails painted pink with pretty little white flowers on them. Cha-ching!

On the last day, we had a couple of hours free before taking them to the airport, so they wanted to go down one of the shopping streets they hadn’t been to yet. As we made our way down the street, one of them was unusually quiet. I sensed something was wrong. We hadn’t even entered any stores. An hour later, the Japanese girls still hadn’t bought a thing! “What’s wrong?” I finally asked.

“We’re out of money!” they screamed with delight. I lent them some money and they continued shopping.

A few days after I saw them off at the airport, I received an email from a Japanese man who was a friend of a friend. His son had just graduated from university and was taking a trip to Bali with his friends for five days. Would I show them around Kuta?

I met the recent grads at the airport a few days later. All nine of them. These young guys were into water sports, so I took them directly to Nusa Dua. There we were given a menu of all the water sports available along with prices: everything from banana boat rides to parasailing. “Which sports would you like to do?” I asked them.

“All of them!” said the Japanese in Overdrive. So all nine people did all 10 sports, all day long. Cha-ching!

A few months later, some other Japanese friends said they were coming to visit me in Bali. These are old friends of mine who had traveled quite a bit, so I was relieved, knowing this would not be a five-day shopping spree nor a five-day motor-powered holiday. When the six of them arrived in Bali, I said, “What would you like to do?” They all said one thing: “Drink!”

So every day the Japanese in Overdrive and I spent all day under the same tree on Kuta Beach, drinking Bintang beers from the same vendor. I had never drank so much in my life.

And the vendor had probably never sold so many beers. Cha-ching!

Filed under: The Island

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