Is it cheaper to buy Bao Bao and Pleats Please by Issey Miyake in Japan? This ultimate how-to guide for fashion-loving tourists will reveal tips on how to buy Bao Bao bags, Pleats Please, and other Issey Miyake clothing for less while visiting Japan.
Originally posted 2017. Updated in Jan 2020 and Feb 2023
Why I love Bao Bao bags and Pleats Please clothing
For years I’ve been mildly obsessed with owning a Bao Bao bag created by the fashion house of the late Japanese designer Issey Miyake. They are instantly recognizable, each made up of a series of flat triangle pieces that change into 3-D shapes as the bag adapts to items placed in the bag. The look is architectural, modern, and chic.
Similarly, I’ve been fascinated with Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please clothing line. Launched in 1993 as a casual offshoot of his main line, Pleats Please clothes feature permanently pressed fabric that never wrinkles and is completely machine washable, making them ideal for travel. The pieces take on sculptural qualities when worn and adapt to each individual wearer’s body so the same piece can look different based on who is wearing it. As I learned more about the line, I grew more enamored.
Although there was a period of time when Pleats Please wasn’t that popular with younger people, after the Covid pandemic that changed a bit. I’ve always found the looks timeless. It’s kinda the Japanese equivalent of Eileen Fisher but is way more high-end and fashion-forward IMHO.
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That’s why during my more recent trips to Japan I became very interested in learning the best ways to acquiring some Issey Miyake-designed handbags and clothing to bring home from my trip.
Please note: I will refer to Bao Bao as “BB,” Pleats Please as “PP,” and Issey Miyake as “IM” through the course of this article.
Is it cheaper to buy Bao Bao bags, Pleats Please, and other Issey Miyake clothing in Japan?
In my own personal experience, yes, it is cheaper to buy Bao Bao bags and Issey Miyake clothing in Japan than it is to buy it here in the United States.
In the US Bao Bao handbags and Issey Miyake clothing are only carried by high-end department stores like Saks, Bloomingdales, and Nordstrom, boutiques in select markets, online at SSENSE, and the Issey Miyake and Pleats Please NYC flagships stores in TriBeCa and SoHo (respectively).
Although some stores like Saks do have sales, they only happen a few times a year and it’s pretty rare to find a good deal on staple items like black pants and dresses. It’s even rarer that they’ll still be stocked in your size once the sale comes around.
For example, the Platinum Mirror Tote was $1,295 in the US in 2020. You could get the same/similar bag from the Ginza/Omote store for around 90,000 JPY, approximately $822 in 2020. That’s a pretty big difference. If the JPY to USD exchange rate continues to remain favorable (I last updated this post in 2023), you could see even bigger savings on the currency conversion than this example from 2020.
Others have found similar price savings when buying Bao Bao in Japan vs. the US and other countries.
Where to buy Bao Bao and Pleats Please in Tokyo and the rest of Japan
The Issey Miyake website keeps an up-to-date list of all the stores where you can find Issey Miyake items (you can even sort by IM brands like “Bao Bao” or “Pleats Please”) in Japan (and internationally). You will notice that some stores will carry several lines. (E.g., a Pleats Please store might also carry Bao Bao.)
In Japan, you can find Issey Miyake in high-end department stores but (and this is key), there are many stand-alone Issey Miyake stores in major cities in Japan like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, etc.
Generally, there is no price difference between what the department stores sell and what is sold in the stand-alone IM stores unless there is a special sale going on – but the only sale I’ve ever seen on IM was in a stand-alone Pleats Please store on Dec 1, 2018, when I think they were discounting prices on previous season items. (I just happen to be there that day – I didn’t even realize there was a sale going on until the cashier told me my item wasn’t eligible for a discount!)
Foreign visitors can get the most savings by buying Bao Bao and Pleats Please directly from Issey Miyake stand-alone stores
In my opinion, one of the best ways for visitors to buy Issey Miyake items (particularly Bao Bao bags) is to acquire them directly from the stand-alone Issey Miyake stores, one item at a time, because of the possible extra savings.
Let me explain:
Consumption tax exemption
If you are traveling from abroad and are making purchases in one day at a store on eligible items (which includes clothing and handbags) that totals more than 5,000 JPY (excluding tax), you are exempt from paying the 10% Japanese consumption tax in participating stores.
This means any purchase on clothing/ handbags/ shoes/ etc. over $38 USD (in 2023) is potentially tax-free in Japan. (Read more about the consumption tax exemption process.) Every IM store I have bought from has offered tax exception services.
Let’s take the 90,000 JPY Bao Bao bag example I mentioned earlier. At the current consumption tax rate of 10%, you’d save 9,000 JPY in taxes.
Issey Miyake INC Members
If you are buying from an IM store, you can earn additional savings by accumulating points when you join Issey Miyake INC Members (formerly “Issey Miyake Member’s Card”). It’s free to sign up online. If you haven’t signed up prior to visiting a store, remember to ask to join when you are going to pay for your first item.
Here’s the deal on the Members program:
- For every purchase made at a standalone Issey Miyake-owned store in Japan, you earn 5% back in points (excluding tax).
- For every 100 points, you will receive a 100 yen discount credit that you can use towards your next purchase.
- These credits can only be used at stand-alone IM stores – you cannot use them at department stores of boutiques that happen to sell IM.
That means if you are going to be in Japan for a number of days, you can stack your visits, buying one piece at a time, and then using the points you earned for each previous purchase to get a discount on the next.
If you use this method, try to plan it so you are buying the most expensive item first, so you are able to earn more points and use them on your less expensive purchases.
I recommend doing it this way because the Member’s Card points expire after one year.
Following the previous example of the Bao Bao bag, you would earn around 4,500 in Member’s Card credit to use on your next purchase at an IM store.
Apply that to a 34,000 JPY Pleats Please dress (which would probably retail for $645 in the US), you will only pay 29,500 JPY- the equivalent of $222 in 2023.
In conclusion, buying from a stand-alone Issey Miyake store will get you 1. Tax exemption PLUS 2. Members points to use on a future purchase.
Alternative savings at major department stores
Some department stores do have additional discounts available to foreigners on top of the tax exemption that may yield some worthwhile savings for visitors, but many exclude certain designers or brands.
In 2022, Iwataya’s Guest Card had no limitations on IM brands. But in the past, Takashimaya’s Shoppers Card 5% discount does not apply to Bao Bao but can be applied to Me by Issey Miyake, so you should check the full policy to decide whether it’s better savings to buy certain IM brand items from a department store or directly from an IM store.
How hard is it to get Bao Bao bags and Pleats Please items in Japan?
I once read back in 2016 you needed to get to the department stores/Issey Miyake stores when they open in order to secure a bag, but when I visited in 2017 I never once saw a queue at the stores.
However, I feel things have completely changed since then. It used to be the stores had full racks, and you could choose from a large number of styles and more muted colors and shades like black, white, gray were readily available. No more. During my visit in 2022 I found all stores across Japan – no matter if they were IM stores or department stores carrying IM lines, stock on IM products in Japan is SCARCE. Like 3 items on a rack scarce. For PP items that were still available, they tended to be the bolder colors – think neon colors, oranges, greens, yellows.
Most IM stores now have a reservations system for the first three days after a release. The number of reservations seems limited and go fast.
That said, when I was unable to secure a reservation to the Osaka store, I dropped by on the third reservation day, close to the store opening time and was able to wait on a standby line to enter once those with reservations had finished shopping. They took down my name and gave me a timed ticket for when I could enter.
The shoppers with the reservations bought a TON of items, so the already slim number of items available were even slimmer. I would guess those who are able to make it on the first day of sale with a reservation have the best chance of buying the items they want from the drop.
Of the modest selections, between individual department stores and IM stores really vary. Not all stores carry the same bags – in fact, it’s quite common to see a very different selection of styles, finishes, and colors even between Bao Bao stores in Japan.
In general, for Pleats Please I’ve found the best stocked stores are the Osaka store and the Tokyo Aoyama store. The PP/BB store at Narita Airport had a not completely sad selection of items (but again, none of these stores seem to be stocked well these days).
I feel that both Bao Bao and Pleats Please are less expensive to buy in Japan than it is in the United States. As long as your purchases are over 5000 JPY, you will not need to pay the 10% consumption tax, and if you buy directly from a stand-alone Issey Miyake store, you can earn discounts on future purchases.
That said, stock of IM brands in stores across Japan seems extremely limited these days. I have a feeling this is due to supply chain issues, but it could also be that a depressed JPY is causing international shoppers to buy up the store.
I hope you found this helpful. If you have any other tips on how to buy Bao Bao and Pleats Please by Issey Miyake in Japan, please let me know in the comments!