Renting movies from a store is a pastime that has died out in the U.S. Why are rental stores in Japan still alive and kicking? A lot of it has to do with consumer culture, and the way that rental stores manage their stores.
Sure, people in the U.S. have it pretty good now. So many movies and TV shows are now available on demand through services such as Netflix, Hulu, and more. What if I told you that most people in Japan still go to rental stores to rent and return movies?
You’d probably imagine some dusty old store with VHS tapes and an old man behind the counter. Did you imagine it? Are you nostalgic? No? Oh, ok. Moving on.
The main two rental stores in Japan are Tsutaya and GEO. New releases of movies can cost you about 400 yen ($4) each for about 1-2 nights. That can get pretty expensive if you want to see the latest movies. However, the best part about rental stores in Japan is when you want to rent older movies. If you stay away from the new releases and “still hot” sections, you can strike gold at the normal DVD aisles. Everything is 100 yen ($1) or less to rent for a week. I should also mention that renting Blu-ray discs are priced identical to DVDs. If you have a blu-ray player, there’s no reason not to rent in HD!
Another cool feature of some rental stores is you can rent comic books. If you want to improve your Japanese reading ability, this can be a good way to take a break from textbooks and have some fun. I really wish this kind of service existed in the U.S. because I would love to rent a stack of a series and go through it over a weekend. That’s exactly what Japanese people do here.
Did you know that you can “rent” music CDs in Japan? Yeah, no kidding! The prices will differ based on the age of the CD, but there are many kinds of genres to choose from. I figured this would never be allowed to happen in the U.S. because record companies know exactly what will happen. Computer-savvy users would just copy the CDs after they rent them. Wouldn’t people in the Japan just do the same? Well, yes and no.
What? No Video Games?
You will not be able to rent video games at rental shops in Japan. Due to some legislation in 1984, video games in general are not allowed to be rented. For more information, check out the post on Kotaku “Why You Can’t Rent Games in Japan”
While you can’t rent them, you can buy new and used games at most rental shops. In my experience, if you’re looking to buy some games, it’s better to go with the GEO line of rental stores over Tsutaya because of better prices and nice coupons for gamers.
Blank CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs
We’ve established that consumers can rent all kinds of disc-based media from rental stores in Japan, but did you know that the stores sell blank media too? That’s right. Everyone knows that you need to pick up some blank CDs/DVDs while you rent some music/movies, right? This always makes me laugh because I can’t imagine media companies being happy about it.
This chain seems to have more “exclusive” movies than GEO. What I mean by that is some movies available for rent can only be found at Tsutaya. They even have a little sticker on them that state “Tsutaya exclusive” I’m not sure how that is worked out, but there is probably a deal between Tsutaya and the movie studio or distribution company.
In my experience, the prices are higher at Tsuyaya for renting older releases than GEO. However, if you’re looking to get good deals on renting “still hot” movies, Tsutaya is the best place.
If you use the Tsutaya app on your smartphone or the website, you can register your local store and receive coupons through email or the app. They come fairly often and you can rent newer releases for the same price as older ones. I’ve used this quite often and I don’t recall GEO having the same promotion coupons for movies.
Pronounced “Geh-Oh.” I like GEO for renting older movies because the price is about 90 yen (90 cents) to rent one movie for a week. This has resulted in me renting mountains of movies I have yet to see. It’s a great deal and has definitely helped in increasing my movie knowledge.
GEO also deals in used cell phones and tablets. If you don’t need your cell phone/smartphone anymore, you can sell it directly to GEO. You may not get the same price as selling it online, but sometimes it is just easier to sell at the store with no hassles of shipping and dealing with people.
Why do people still need rental stores in Japan?
To understand why people still rent movies, you need to understand the history of personal computers in Japan. Computer knowledge and use is different than what you might be used to in your own country. Japanese people are accustomed to using electronics and appliances that do not rely on desktop/laptop computers. This is a factor in why people rent DVDs.
For more information check out the article “Why Japan Didn’t Create the iPod”
Streaming Services in Japan
Because the common person in Japan doesn’t use their computer as a digital hub, streaming services have been slow to catch on with the mainstream. Japanese TV manufacturers have also been slow to develop smart TVs for the Japanese market. However, the view on streaming services is changing due to many people switching from standard phones to smartphones.
Hulu has established a presence in Japan and has been promoting itself actively. There are still many people that don’t know about it, but slowly people are beginning to understand what streaming services can do for them. In the ad above, the promotional text reads: “No need to rent, no need to return.”
As of September 2015, Netflix has also launched in Japan. This is a good sign that competition is starting to take off and in the next five years, there will be a lot of growth in online video services.
With the recent launch of Netflix in Japan, I think the competition is going to start heating up. Within the next five years, a lot of people are going to start switching to subscription streaming services and going out to rent movies less.