Archive for November, 2009

Can aliens buy music more cheaply?

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I hate this message

I hate this message

For music lovers Tokyo is something of a paradise in that there are still a lot of retailers who sell large selections of CDs and LPs. In America, at least, unless you happen to live in a community where some gallant nerd still operates a “record store” you can only buy CDs and LPs in person at so-called big box retailers like Walmart and Target, and those places tend to only deal in records that are expected to shift lots of units. Tokyo, on the other hand, still has HMV and even Tower, which closed all its stores in the U.S. some time ago but apparently still has a mail-order business there.

Even more, there’s Recofan, a chain store that sells new CDs at discount prices and tons of used CDs. Below that are dozens of niche record stores, mostly in Shibuya.

Record stores are as much about browsing as they are about buying, and if you buy a lot of music you obviously look for bargains where you can. For the most part, records in Japan are considerably more expensive than they are in the U.S. Common sense says that imports should be more expensive than domestic product, and that’s generally true overseas, but until about 10 years ago imported CDs were cheaper than the same CDs sold in Japan on Japanese labels, mainly because retailers have to sell Japanese-made records at fixed prices. Eventually, the prices of Japanese records of foreign artists came down in order to compete more readily with imports. (Big label CDs of Japanese artists are free from such competition so they’re expensive as hell — ¥3,000 usually — though several years ago local labels sicked their lawyers on companies that tried to “reimport” cheaper Asian versions of J-pop acts.)

Continue reading about digital downloads in Japan →

Annals of cheap: Daigoro

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

You can buy Daigoro anywhere, even in drug stores like this one

You can buy Daigoro anywhere, even in drug stores like this one

Like many people, I had many surprises when I first arrived in Japan, and one of them was the sight of men (always men) drinking openly on the street. Often it was canned beer, but if any one product was ubiquitous it was One Cup Ozeki, which for years I assumed was actually marketed with street drinking in mind. Actually, it was developed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as an all-in-one package for nihonshu-lovers. The packaging itself is a sturdy glass “cup” with a metal pull top and a plastic replaceable cover, meaning you can enjoy it without having to provide your own container. This was just the sort of thing that street drinkers, a class of recreationists that includes a good portion of day workers, chronic alcoholics and homeless, were waiting for, so to speak, especially since a 180-ml portion was less than ¥220. In fact, Ozeki, the major sake brewer behind the brand, had to contend with an image that associated One Cup with the indigent. For a while, the company actually embraced this image indirectly with award-winning TV commercials that showed how the cups could double as flower vases and containers for household items, a utility to which the homeless had been putting discarded One Cup Ozeki containers for years.

Continue reading about Daigoro shochu →

Chiyoda Ward wants you to ride your bicycle

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

A parking lot near Kita Senju station

A parking lot near Kita Senju Station

Though bike riders get credit for not polluting the environment, they don’t get a lot of respect. The law says you should ride in the road, but drivers and even local police often force cyclists up on the sidewalks where they invariably terrorize pedestrians. Even worse, when you get to your destination you may end up spending as much time as a motorist finding a legal place to park your vehicle.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, 869,000 illegally parked or abandoned bicycles were “removed” in 2007. Of these about 510,000 were eventually reclaimed by owners with the rest being “processed,” which we assume means they were either destroyed or shipped off to North Korea, where, according to certain right-wing conspiracy theorists, they enjoy a second life as weapons parts.

Removing and processing bicycles obviously costs money, and since 60 percent of those seized are reclaimed, it seems equally obvious that local governments should make more of an effort to provide free parking to non-commuters who just want to visit a particular neighborhood for shopping or whatever. Chiyoda Ward seems to be doing that. In the past year or so the ward has set up 18 parking stations in popular areas where bicycle parking is free for up to two hours and then costs only ¥100 thereafter up to 24 hours. Akihabara has two.

Continue reading about illegally parked bicycles →

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