Archive for December, 2010

Starbucks caves in to refills, sort of

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

To some people, Starbucks represents all that’s evil about the global economy. The corporation is ruthless and the branches are interchangeable and ubiquitous. However, one can understand the enmity while still appreciating the product. The beverage they sell is still the equal if not superior to that of any other coffee vendor, and in Japan, at least, it’s the only coffee shop chain that guarantees a totally smoke-free environment.

Make that to go

Starbucks’ brand image is based on snobbery to a certain extent, which is quite an accomplishment given how their establishments are literally everywhere. Much of this exclusivity is based on the idea that each frappucino or latte or mocha is special and hand-made. That exclusivity, however, has now been undermined with Starbucks’ One More Coffee policy.

If you buy a Coffee of the Day, in any size, you can receive a refill, either hot or cold, of the same size for only ¥100. All you have to do is show the cashier your receipt for the first coffee. Though Starbucks has had a free refill policy in the U.S. for a while now, in Japan it has always been more limited. The One More Coffee deal was first offered from January to April on an experimental basis, and then last summer for a limited time, probably to counter the McDonald’s threat.

Now they seem to have brought it back for good, or at least that’s what a cashier in Otemachi told us. It’s good all day for the day you bought the first coffee, and, even better, it’s good at any Starbucks; meaning, you can buy a first coffee at one branch and then get a refill later in the day at another one. There appears to be no other restrictions so, in theory, you can even give your receipt to a colleague or friend and they can enjoy the refill. Will this lead to a black market in second-hand receipts?

Yes, that sounds pretty kechi (cheap), we know; but that’s the sort of thought that comes to mind when a company like Starbucks breaks its self-imposed mold and does something unexpected like this. Some will say the deal is less than meets the eye since it doesn’t apply to specialty drinks, only drip coffee, but, for us specialty coffees don’t cut it. If you like coffee, you drink coffee; and you drink it black.

New refuse rules criminalize can-collecting

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Some years ago certain enterprising margin-dwellers, for the most part homeless men, started rummaging through refuse bins at train stations for discarded magazines and comic books, and then sold them to equally enterprising persons who in turn resold them to commuters for less then the cover prices. Publishers eventually got hip to this practice and pressured the authorities to crack down on these pirates.

No, you can't (photo Mark Thompson)

The crackdown obviously closed one small window of income opportunity for homeless men, and recently the government of Tokyo’s Sumida Ward passed a law that may shut another one. On Oct. 1 a new regulation went into effect in the ward that makes it illegal for anyone except agents authorized to do so by the ward government to remove recyclables left at designated refuse locations. The ostensible reason for this law is to prevent removal companies that do not have contracts with Sumida Ward from taking recyclables such as cans, bottles and newspapers. However, groups that support the homeless have complained that the law effectively criminalizes an activity that many indigent inviduals rely on for their only income. It’s not uncommon, especially in areas near the Sumida River, to see homeless men pushing shopping carts loaded down with enormous collections of discarded aluminum cans, which they deliver to recycling centers for cash.

Most of the local governments that have passed such laws — 13 of Tokyo’s 23 wards have these regulations, as well as the cities of Saitama, Sapporo and Chiba, to mention only three — say they are not specifically targeting the homeless, but homeless support groups, some of whom have held rallies recently at prominent locations in Sumida Ward, including the area surrounding the Tokyo Sky Tree, have said that these regulations’ lack of specifics as to what consitutes an “unauthorized agent” opens the door for a crackdown on homeless can collecting, and, in turn, may further demonize the homeless in the eyes of the general population. The city of Kyoto, for instance, enforces a similar refuse law but plans to amend it with a clause that respects homeless people’s “independence.” The Sumida Ward rule sets a fine of up to ¥200,000 for violations.

Continue reading about can-collecting regulations →


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