Archive for August, 2009

Annals of cheap: Garigari-kun

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

garigari2a

The two original flavors: “soda” (top) and “muscat of Alexandria”

It’s been a relatively cool summer overall, and while the temperatures have had something to do with the drop in sales of beer (or “beer-like” beverages) and air conditioners, it doesn’t seem to have had much of an adverse effect on Japan’s favorite packaged frozen snack, Garigari-kun, which added a few new flavors this past season.

Garigari-kun is classified as “bo (stick or bar) ice candy,” which means it has a lot of competition. Ice candy is more popular in Japan than ice cream owing to its associations with the traditional summer treat kakigori (shaved ice), and if you look in your local convenience store freezer you’ll find a large and confusing array of ice candy, both bar and cup types, that seem interchangeable. But Garigari-kun always outsells them all by a huge margin, and one of the reasons is the price: only ¥60. The Sankei-Fuji website says that the dairy company Akagi Nyugyo sold 255 million Garigari-kun bars in 2008.

Read more about garigari →

Goodbye Work

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Want Ads

Help wanted ads in a newspaper flyer.

A “white paper” recently released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reports that a survey it conducted of Hello Work outlets (i.e., government-run employment offices) found that approximately 229,000 non-regular workers have lost their jobs since last October. The report looked at 125,000 of these cases more closely and saw that 3,400 people also lost their housing as a direct result of their sudden unemployment, which we assume means that they were kicked out of their residences because those residences were provided by their employers. The report went on to say that these people did not have any money saved, and so we can make the further assumption that these people are homeless at the moment — unless they have family or friends who will put them up.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that it’s very difficult to find work when you don’t have a place to live. But the main catch-22 in this story is that it’s impossible to apply for welfare without a permanent address; which means there’s no safety net for the unemployed/homeless until they secure work — if they ever do.

Yesterday, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry announced that the jobless rate is the highest it’s been since they’ve been keeping records, and an unscientific, visual survey of the banks of the Sumida River near our apartment indicates an increase in the number of “blue shacks” erected there since the start of summer.

Those people have already given up.

Got those rental blacklist blues

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

real estate black list

A front page article in the Aug. 15 Asahi Shimbun reported that 15 “yachin hosho kaisha” (rental guarantee companies) are planning to get together to compile a blacklist of rent scofflaws. Rental guarantee companies are a relatively new phenomenon. Normally, when you rent a property in Japan you need a guarantor to cosign the rental agreement.

For residences, landlords have traditionally insisted on family members, invariably parents, regardless of the age of the parents or their incomes relative to the prospective tenants’. Sometimes this is impossible because the parents are dead or otherwise estranged from the prospective tenant. And sometimes it’s impossible because the prospective tenant is a foreigner. (Many foreigners have their sponsoring employers cosign their rental agreements, which landlords prefer, anyway.)

When the usual guarantors are not options, the prospective tenant can hire a guarantee company, which usually charges a nonrefundable fee equal to about one month’s rent, both when the tenant signs the initial rental agreement and when he or she renews it.

Read more about rental blacklists →

Option to owning

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Nikoniko Rentacar

Three years ago we sold our car because we rarely used it and the cost of keeping it seemed ridiculously high. However, that had been the situation for at least five years before that, so why did it take so long to come to a decision? Mainly because we thought we might need a car for emergencies, transporting something, or the occasional trip out-of-town. We didn’t see any alternative.

For instance, we thought car rentals in Japan were prohibitively expensive. Twenty years ago, they were prohibitely expensive. Only businesses rented cars, which made sense given Japan’s superior rail network. But rental charges have come down considerably in the past decade, and earlier this summer two nationwide car rental services opened that offer extremely low rates.

One's Rentacar

Nikoniko Rentacar keeps their operating expenses low by stocking used vehicles and tying up with struggling gas stations who can provide them with facilities for maintenance and storage. The cars are small and start at ¥2,525 for half a day. They now have 88 outlets throughout Japan and plan to open 31 more in the near future. And since they are always on the look out for franchisers, the network will grow bigger with each month. By 2011 they estimate they’ll have a thousand outlets.

Then there’s One’s Rentacar, which charges a little more, ¥2,625 for half a day. Associated with Gulliver, the used car juggernaut, One’s now boasts about 60 outlets but says it will have about 300 by the end of the year. They even offer one hour rentals (¥1,000), collision insurance (¥1,050), and optional car navigation systems (¥500).

Anyway, it’s one more excuse not to hang on to your car.

Free java, no jive

Monday, August 10th, 2009

mcdonald's coffee

You may have heard about McDonald’s free coffee deal. From July 24 to 30 a cup of joe cost 0 yen from 8 to 9 a.m. at all Kanto area McDonald’s outlets. Yes, that means you missed it, but McD will revive the deal for a week at Kanto area outlets at the end of August, but this time in the evening. In the meantime, if you live in the Kansai region, the campaign will take place there Aug. 14-20 and in other areas of Japan Aug. 21-27, in both cases from 8 to 9 in the morning.

Why does the fast food behemoth need to give away coffee? After all, McDonald’s is recession-proof. Sales of all its Japan stores in July increased 2.6 percent over sales in the same month last year and the company made record profits in the first half of 2009.

TV Tokyo’s nightly business news program said in a recent report that McDonald’s Japan Holdings is openly challenging Starbuck’s for a bigger share of Japan’s coffee shop market. About a year ago McDonald’s Japan installed more sophisticated coffee-making machines and came out with “premium” coffee for only 120 yen. It’s actually pretty good ? certainly not as good as Starbucks’, but as one of those consumers who avoids McD’s out of principle I would definitely say it works in the cost-performance department. Because McDonald’s already has a huge and faithful clientele, news of the new coffee’s high quality spread quickly in Japan. The music chart magazine Oricon conducted a survey that asked people, “Which coffee do you most want to buy?” McDonald’s came in first, followed by Starbucks and Doutour.

The free coffee experiment is considered a huge success. The number of visitors during the weeklong campaign increased by 45 percent, and a good portion of those people likely bought something to go with their coffee. Is this bad news for Starbucks? To some people that’s like asking if Dow Chemical is a threat to Monsanto. Regardless of the difference in quality, they’re both octopuses, so who cares?

BTW department: Harimaya, a manufacturer of rice crackers (senbei) and other high quality traditional Japanese snacks, offers free coffee all the time at its Harimaya Stations throughout Japan. You don’t have to buy anything, and you can even get free samples of their wares. The one in Kasumigaseki, just around the corner from the Toranomon subway station, is particularly nice. The main idea is to promote traditional Japanese snacks. Personally, I prefer tea with my rice crackers, and there’s free hojicha (roasted tea), as well.

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