Archive for August, 2011

Discount strategies: Every dog, and man, has his day

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

The prevailing wisdom in Japan is that women are the arbiters of consumer culture. Traditionally, men were thought — or thought themselves — to be above the petty considerations of how to spend money. But the lingering recession and its negative effects on the employment situation have changed everything. Young men are no longer automatically expected to pay for dates, if, in fact, they ever actually go on dates. Even salaried male employees are openly anxious about their pocket money, counting every last yen and budgeting their output. It’s not just their wives’ or girlfriends’ jobs any more.

Guys just wanna have fun: Shidax's Men's Day ad

The popular promotional scheme known as Ladies Days are implemented by retailers and service providers to lure women to their businesses. On certain days of the week, month or year, women receive discounts from hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, etc., as a means of getting more of them interested in what they offer. Such promotions were never offered to men, and not just because of male pride. Men, after all, are believed to run the world. As the advantaged gender, why should they get a break?

Well, a number of businesses think it’s about time men did get a break. Mainichi Shimbun recently reported on the trend for Men’s Days, mainly centered on eating establishments. The article talks about a Portuguese restaurant in Ginza where every Monday male patrons’ first glass of beer is free and only men get to order the pudding for dessert. The manager of the establishment, a man, told the paper, “There are lots of Ladies Days, and I thought that was strange.”

His response is sort of strange, too. We have more faith in the comment from a female manager of another restaurant with a Men’s Day special in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture. Her restaurant on designated days offers extra helping of pasta and rice to men for free, not to mention free side orders of soup. Why? Ninety percent of their patrons are women, and men normally eat more than women do, which means they potentially spend more. “We want repeat business.”

Continue readings about Men's Days →

Annals of cheap: Fukushima peaches

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Eat a peach

On Thursday, the government lifted the ban on beef shipments for farmers and ranchers in the Tohoku region. That means cattle can be shipped, but the meat they produce will still have to be inspected for radioactive materials. Ranchers in Fukushima, however, want more. They want the government to buy up the beef that went to market before the ban but was not sold.

Farmers in Fukushima, where the stricken nuclear reactor is located, may attempt similar countermeasures for other produce, which is not selling because the public is afraid it might be contaminated. Of course, the very fact that Fukushima fruits and vegetables are in stores proves that those fruits and vegetables have passed inspection and are thus deemed safe according to government standards, but there’s always fuhyo higai (hearsay damage), which can be as deadly to commerce as any trace of cesium. If sales of certain produce are banned, then the farmers can ask for compensation from the government or Tokyo Electric Power Co., but if consumers just refuse to buy the produce because they’re afraid to eat it, there’s no recourse except to throw the produce away.

As cynical as it may sound, there is a silver lining to this situation, and that’s lower prices. In particular, the prices of peaches from Fukushima are lower than they’ve ever been, and if you’ve ever tasted a peach from the prefecture, you’ll understand what good news that is.

Continue reading about Fukushima peaches →

All in the family: Keeping inheritances is a tricky business

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

A recent story reported by all the major media highlights a peculiar aspect of current household economics in Japan. In March, a home in Fukuoka City was broken into and ¥160 million in cash was stolen. One of the people who lived there, a 26-year-old woman, reported the robbery to the police, who have yet to catch the thief.

Wills are almost unheard of in Japan, which may be the problem

During their investigation the police wondered why the woman had such a huge amount of cash in her home. The usual reason is that there is almost no place to park that money these days. With bank interest rates remaining at zero indefinitely, more and more families just sock their money away in the mattress (or, in the Japanese idiom, the wardrobe). Mutual funds and other investment opportunities are available in Japan, but the average Japanese person tends to be averse to anything with risk attached.

In the case of the burgled party, the reasons were a little different. Investigators eventually learned that the ¥160 million was part of a ¥1.45 billion inheritance that the woman and her two older siblings received from their mother, who died in 2008 at the age of 64. The inheritance was made up of both cash and assets, including real estate, and had they properly reported it the three would have been liable for ¥544 million in inheritance taxes. As it stands now they will have to pay more, what with fines and penalties added on. In their case it’s even worse since they may be paying tax on ¥160 million they no longer have.

Continue reading about wills in Japan →

There’s gold in them there wardrobes!

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

If you've got bars of it, you're good as gold, but tooth filings and eyeglass frames will do. (Kyodo photo)

A term that has suddenly come to the fore in recent months is “urban mining,” the idea that there are precious metals in the everyday objects that surround us that can be recycled. The most prominent example is old cell phones, which contain both iridium and gold. There’s not enough in one to make its owner rich, but, for instance, a ton of ore from a gold mine typically gives up only 5 grams of real gold, while a ton of discarded cell phones could represent as much as 150 grams of gold.

Japan is generally acknowledged to have the largest potential urban mine of any country in the world. It is believed the general public possesses 6,800 tons of gold, mostly in the form of jewelry and accessories, but also in ingot and bar forms, not to mention “hidden” gold in electronics devices. (Many Japanese keep their old cell phones because they want to hold onto the data they contain.) That’s the equivalent of 16 percent of what is estimated to be all the “uncovered” gold in the ground worldwide. Silver is even more: 60,000 tons, or 22 percent of the amount still buried.

Continue reading about a new sort of gold rush →

Which appliance is the energy hog? It’s not your air conditioner

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

See that red button on the right...

Actually, in terms of overall electricity usage in households, air conditioners use the most on a continual basis, followed by refrigerators. But on a unit per hour basis, air conditioners are not that bad, even though they’ve been made the villain by the media. Broadcasters, in particular, are offering tips to households on how to cut down on energy consumption and the main suggestion is to set your air conditioner at 28 degrees centigrade. Because so many people, in particular the elderly, have fallen victim to heat stroke, no one is saying to turn off the air conditioner any more, but the general consensus is that the average air conditioner in the average home uses about 130 watts of energy and, overall, accounts for a bit less than a fourth of the summer electricity bill, which gives you some idea of the savings potential.

What the media doesn’t say, according to an article in the most recent issue of Shukan Post, is that there is another appliance in your house that actually uses more electricity. A typical large screen (over 37 inches) LCD television set uses on average 220 watts, or 70 percent more energy than the air conditioner if both are being used continuously, but, of course, media companies aren’t going to suggest you turn off the TV because that would hurt their business.

Continue reading about the most power-hungry appliance →

Disaster housing proves cash cow for general contractors

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Temporary housing doesn't come cheaply (Kyodo photo)

An article in the Aug. 2 edition of the Asahi Shimbun reported that the average cost of constructing a temporary housing (kasetsu jutaku) unit in Miyagi Prefecture to shelter victims of the March 11 disaster has been ¥3.7 million, which is about 50 percent higher than the price stipulated in the revised Disaster Relief Law. Moreover, that figure does not include associated costs such as plumbing. When those costs are factored in the average price per unit skyrockets to more than ¥5 million. To put matters into perspective, many prefab housing manufacturers offer products, meaning full 3-bedroom homes, that you can have built for as little as ¥8.7 million.

The prefecture made deals with two associations soon after the quake and by June 22 had signed contracts to provide 17,510 units. One association consists of eleven companies that build prefabricated housing, while the other consists of 24 companies that “lease” prefab housing. The former companies would build houses from the ground up using all new materials, while the latter company would provide housing using materials “recycled” from other prefab constructions. The average size of each unit is 29.7 square meters. Obviously, the leasing companies’ units are cheaper, but they still ended up being more expensive than the legally stipulated price, which was ¥2.38 million per unit. In fact, the prefecture knew that when it accepted the bid from the association, which was ¥2.88 million per unit. As of mid-June, that price had risen to ¥3.45 million. But that’s nothing compared to the price of a fully constructed unit, which has climbed to as much as ¥5.1 million.

Continue reading about temporary shelters →

Cool to be kind: Air conditioners for the needy

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Yamada Denki's cheapest air conditioner

On Aug. 1, the Tokyo prefectural government started a program that provides up to ¥40,000 to certain households so that they can buy air conditioners and have them installed. Considering how much newsprint, cyberspace and air time has been dedicated this summer to the subject of saving energy and the amount of electricity an air conditioner uses, it seems a rather strange program. According to the Tokyo Shimbun, only about 700 households are estimated to qualify for the grant. To receive the money the household must already be receiving welfare from the central government and have at least one member over 65 years of age whose physician recommends an air conditioner to prevent heat stroke.

It’s the first time any government, local or otherwise, has earmarked specific funds so that private individuals can buy air conditioners. Until, say, 25 years ago in Japan, air conditioners were considered luxuries, which meant that welfare recipients couldn’t even own one if they wanted to continue receiving benefits. In Japan, traditionally, owning certain household appliances, or even a car, meant that automatically you couldn’t receive welfare, regardless of your income because such items indicated you had spent the money you received on something you didn’t need to survive, even if, in fact, you had received said item before going on welfare. That’s the reasoning behind welfare: Receiving the minimum to get by. Even TVs were forbidden at one time, and it was common for welfare recipients to hide them when the social worker (minseiin) came to check up on them. Obviously, air conditioners are now considered necessities.

Continue reading about loans for air conditioners →


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