Archive for October, 2009

Prospective homeowners logging in to customization

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Wood if you could

Wood if you could

Designer homes are a luxury anywhere in the world, but in Japan they are even more so given the price of land and the cost of construction. And until not too long ago homes that were considered “distinctive,” meaning that they were obviously designed and built to the specifications of their original owners, were considered risky by bank lenders, who believed their distinction would make them difficult to resell, regardless of their quality.

Nevertheless, over the years more and more prospective home owners became understandably disillusioned with the dull layouts and inflexible designs of assembly-line products sold by major manufacturers like Toyota Home and Daiwa House. Many of these people have opted for so-called log houses, most of which aren’t strictly speaking made of logs. However, they are all-wood. Originally, log houses were sold as second homes or vacation homes (besso). It’s been only recently that people have started looking at them as first homes.

Continue reading about log houses →

Mystery train

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

The view west from Shin Kamagaya Station

The view west from Shin Kamagaya Station

The most expensive railway in Japan is the Hokuso Line, which runs for a mere 32.3 km between the Keisei Takasago Station in eastern Tokyo and the Inba Nihon Idai Station in Chiba Prefecture. If you travel from one end of the line to the other it takes 34 minutes and costs ¥870, which comes out to about ¥27 per kilometer.

Of course, many factors go into determining train fares and most of them have to do with the local situation. The main factor is demand, which is why you usually find higher fares in the deep countryside, where the sparse population can’t always support regular railway service. However, the Hokuso Line connects a fairly well-populated section of western Chiba to the capital via the Keisei and Keikyu railways, so why is it so much more expensive that other lines in the area?

Continue reading about the Hokuso Line →

Seven-burger army

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Does this look appetizing?

Does this look appetizing?

Lots of jokes on the Internet about Burger King’s PR stunt with Microsoft to promote the launch of the latter’s Windows 7 OS last week. For seven days starting Oct. 22 the first 30 people who order one at any Burger King Japan outlet (all 15 of ’em!) can have a “Windows 7 Whopper,” containing seven beef patties, for only ¥777. After that, you have to pay ¥1,450.

According to a wide show report I saw yesterday, this one sandwich adds up to 2,100 calories, which is more than you need in one day. Three guests on the show were presented with the stacked goods and none seemed too pleased to have to eat it — they needed knives and forks, in fact.

In food-happy Japan, the campaign itself doesn’t sound so surprising. What is surprising is that, according to the reporter on the wide show, most of the takers are women. Maybe I’m out of touch lately, but burgers for breakfast (how else are you going to take advantage of the ¥777 deal?) sounds like a guy thing to me. Maybe these women are taking the burgers home and making seven separate sandwiches to freeze for later? Japanese women love to save money.

Comparative payoffs

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

You can have this baby for a song

You can have this baby for a song

The Oct. 10 issue of the weekly financial magazine Toyo Keizai lists the price earnings ratios (PER) of used properties in accordance with their closest railway stations in the Tokyo Metropolitan, Kinki, and Chubu regions. PER is more commonly used to determine the value of stocks. Toyo Keizai uses it to compare housing as an investment, specifically apartments that are bought to generate income in the form of rent. They use the formula PER = condo price / (monthly rent X 12).

PER is an important indicator since more and more people are investing in rental housing. A lower PER essentially means a better return on investment. What Toyo doesn’t mention, however, is that you have to rent the unit out to get any return, and renting isn’t as easy as it sounds.

What’s most interesting to me, since I’m a renter, is the way the PER shows the relationship between the price of an apartment in a given area and its presumed rental value. Kamakura, for instance, has a fairly high PER of 19. This means that properties are relatively expensive in Kamakura while rentals are relatively cheap; and it isn’t difficult to figure out why. Kamakura is a very popular place to live for people who don’t have to commute to Tokyo.

Continue reading about the PER of rental housing →

Jeans on the cheap

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

If you need jeans at 4 in the morning you know where to go

If you need jeans at 4 in the morning you know where to go

As apparel goes, jeans fill a unique niche. Originally marketed strictly as work clothing whose main sales point was durability, ever since the ’60s denim trousers have become ubiquitous, first as the uniform of the counter-culture, then as a template onto which various high-rent designers projected their hip cachet, and finally as pretty much the world’s de facto leisure wear. Levis, the original jean manufacturer, can charge anything it wants and in such a way became the standard for pricing. Anything more expensive than a pair of basic 501s was considered ostentatious; anything cheaper was, well, cheap.

Last March, discount clothier Uniqlo broke the thousand-yen barrier at its even cheaper retail subsidiary g.u. (or jiyu, which means “freedom”) by putting on sale jeans that cost ¥990. Since then, other cheapo retailers have followed suit and last week the discount chain Don Quijote announced that it would be selling its own “private brand” (PB) of jeans called Jonetsu Kagaku (passionate price) for only ¥690 per pair.

Continue reading about cheap jeans →

This tax’s for you

Friday, October 16th, 2009

So many beer-like beverages, so little time

So many beer-like beverages, so little time

Last week, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ordered the tax ministry to review the alcohol tax system, specifically in relation to beer and so-called beer-like beverages. The announcement immediately sent the major breweries into a tizzy, since the likely outcome of such a review will be a higher tax for “Number 3-type” (daisan) beverages, which are responsible for most of the profits that alcohol manufacturers have enjoyed in the past year or so.

Though Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto didn’t mention beer, the party’s policy, according to the Asahi Shimbun, is to look at the possibility of pegging the beer tax to a beverage’s alcohol level, which is the way liquor taxes tend to be determined overseas. At present, daisan beverages and happoshu are taxed at much lower rates than beer, even though the alcohol levels of all three are comparable. If the DPJ does peg tax rates to alcohol levels, then the prices of all three beverages will likely become the same or close to the same; a situation that would essentially render daisan and happoshu meaningless, since the only reason they sell so well is that they’re much cheaper than beer. A 350-ml can of daisan, for example, is on average about ¥80 yen cheaper than an equivalent-sized can of beer.

Continue reading about alcohol tax →

Won on the wane

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Shinsegae (New World) Department Store's atrium

Shinsegae (New World) Department Store’s atrium

The limousine bus from Busan’s Gimhae airport to the Haeundae beach resort area where the Pusan International Film Festival takes place was almost half-filled with Japanese, which wasn’t necessarily unusual. PIFF is the biggest film festival in Asia so many industry people and press from Japan attend, but it was obvious from the comments these people were making that they weren’t here for business.

“Duck cuisine!” said one woman looking at a billboard. “Sounds delicious.” Her companions chimed in affirmatively. It was something they would definitely check out.

They were middle age, housewives probably, and they had come to PIFF to ogle the Korean movie stars who show up every year at the festival. At the hotel I stayed at they would line the red carpet, alongside the Korean teenage girls, to catch a glimpse of the celebrities as they entered the building to attend one of the many industry parties.

Continue reading about the won vs. the yen →


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