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Yen for Living is moving!

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

See you on the other side (ISTOCK)

See you on the other side (ISTOCK)

Yen for Living has lived in this virtual space since August 2009. From today, new Yen for Living reports will appear in The Japan Times on Sunday on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. It will also be archived on the JT website.

You can read our first story in JT on Sunday here.

Thanks for your support and wish us luck in our ‘new’ home.

Pusses galore: Cats dominate the pet industry

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Free at last: Stray female cat after undergoing spaying and about to be released

Free at last: Stray female cat after undergoing spaying and about to be released

Feb. 22 was Cat Day in Japan, because “two-two” in Japanese can be uttered using an approximation of a sound that cats make. It’s a typical pseudo-event, invented by the pet food industry, which is doing quite well by cats. In fact, it’s doing better by cats than by dogs if you’re talking about growth.

According to the Japan Pet Food Association, about 10.9 million dogs and 9.7 million cats are kept as pets in Japan. The pet-related market, including medical care, is worth about ¥1.4 trillion, but while the parity between the two species as animal companions is about equal, sales of respective food products is increasing more for cats than it is for dogs.

Dog food sales peaked in 2004 at a little more than 490,000 tons and has been gradually dropping ever since. Cat food sales in 2005 was much less, about 271,000 tons, but cats tend to be smaller and thus need less food, and at any rate, sales have been steadily increasing in the meantime. In 2014, the association says that a household with at least one dog spends on average ¥2,884 a month on dog food, while a household with at least one cat spends ¥2,996.

The slight difference can be explained by a number of factors: people with cats are more likely to have more than one animal than do dog owners, and dogs eat anything. Cats’ famous finicky tastes means that cat owners will likely buy more food to make sure their pets don’t get tired of the same thing.

CONTINUE READING about pet trends in Japan →

Who benefits from the new overtime pay system?

Monday, February 16th, 2015

On Feb. 13, a Labor Policy Council sub-committee submitted to the labor ministry a report with suggestions for a bill to revise the labor standards law. The revision, which the ministry plans to submit to the next regular Diet session, applies to the work of skilled white collar professionals and will allow them to “work in a manner that demonstrates their achievements” more effectively, which is another way of saying that employers will no longer be required to pay these workers overtime for extra hours on the job, which in turn means that employers cannot be accused of pressuring them to work overtime for no pay, a system popularly known as saabisu zangyo, or “free overtime.”

Ostensibly, the revision will affect a small portion of the labor force, since it will only apply to workers who make at least ¥10.75 million a year, mainly foreign currency traders, financial analysts, consultants, etc.

Burning the candle at both ends.

Burning the candle at both ends.

According to the advisory panel’s recommendations, if a company wants to utilize this new overtime system, it must reach an agreement with the targeted workers and somehow introduce rules that will guarantee the employees avoid overwork as much as possible by, for instance, making sure they don’t work weekends.

The panel also recommends another revision to so-called sairyo rodosei, the “discretionary labor system.” Under to this system the worker and his employer decide together how many hours the former will work and how much pay he will receive based on those hours. If the two parties believe that in order to accomplish his tasks he may occasionally need to work longer hours, then those hours and appropriate compensation should be incorporated beforehand into his wages. But if the worker works even more hours than the overtime covered by the extra wage, he will not be paid extra in accordance with the new system, though there may be special conditions for after-midnight and weekend work.

This system targets sales agents, researchers, legal workers — people who tend to require flexible hours since the size of their work load varies in accordance with the nature of a specific project. The whole point, according to the labor ministry, is to peg pay to achievement.

An report in Tokyo Shimbun points out that there is more to the proposed bill than the two revised overtime systems. The ostensible purpose of the revisions is to prevent “overwork,” so the sub-committee also recommends a law guaranteeing a minimum number of paid vacation days a year, even for management employees; and that overtime rates be increased for employees of small and medium-sized companies to those already being paid by large companies.

With regards to workers on flextime systems, overtime should be paid for any hours that exceed 50 in a week, and employees with small children should be better able to set their hours in order to address parenting contingencies.

CONTINUE READING about overtime policies →

Retiring boomers make their last stand on the real estate market

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Onward and upward: Diorama showing high-rise condos under construction on Tokyo's waterfront

Onward and upward: Diorama showing high-rise condos under construction on Tokyo’s waterfront

Following the 2011 Eastern Japan Earthquake, sales of high-rise condominiums in Tokyo saw a drop that reflected anxiety over living so far off the ground. Though no high-rises were damaged in the temblor (if anything, the disaster showed how well they’d been built to withstand earthquakes), matters such as stopped elevators and the possibility of losing water or other utilities even temporarily were made apparent to tower dwellers. More significantly, elderly people who lived high up realized how difficult it would be to evacuate in the case of a quake hitting the city more directly.

The sales decline was short-lived. High-rise condos, or “tower mansions,” are as popular as ever right now, and according to a recent article in Shukan Asahi, especially popular among retired and soon-to-be-retired people.

With the memory of the quake receding and developers promoting even safer high-rises, the aging baby boom generation is looking at the issue from a practical standpoint. The article profiles a 60-year-old woman named Midori Takahashi who bought her condo four years ago in Koto Ward on the Tokyo waterfront, in a new high-rise 10 minutes by foot from Kiyosumi Shirakawa Station on the Hanzomon Metro line. She and her 57-year-old husband bought the property after assessing the situation of her own parents, who lived in Shizuoka City. When her father retired, he bought a house in the countryside, near a river with a beautiful view, since he wanted to spend the rest of his life surrounded by nature. But as his health deteriorated he found it difficult to make regular visits to a hospital, so he moved back to the city.

Takahashi and her 57-year-old husband are childless. They have their own health concerns, and when both were forced to retire early they sold their Tokyo home and bought an ekichika (close to station) high-rise condo, also in Tokyo. They are close to hospitals and retail outlets, and with two train lines within easy walking distance they can get anywhere without having to drive. Moreover, they’ve found that most of the people in their building are the same age, and have thus joined a new community with relative ease.

CONTINUE READING about the changing real estate market for boomers →

Hair-care industry has anxious consumers coming and going

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Does he or doesn't he? Scalp stimulators on sale in discount drug store

Does he or doesn’t he? Scalp stimulators on sale in discount drug store

According to the Yano Research Institute, Japan’s hair-care products market in 2013 was worth a little more than ¥432 billion, a 2 percent increase over the previous year’s revenues, which is easy to believe. After cars and beer, hair-care items are probably the most advertised products on Japanese television, and the ones that saw the most growth (no pun intended) were those related to either hair-growth promotion (hatsumo/ikumo) or hair replacement, such as implants and hair pieces.

It’s hardly a surprising development demographically. As everyone knows, there are more old people in Japan every year, and thus more people with thinning hair in the population. What’s more, according to Yano, is that in line with these changes there is currently an entire “anti-aging” market that has materialized, encompassing everything from vitamin supplements to health club memberships.

Underlying it all is the sense among average Japanese, reinforced by popular culture, that they are likely to lose their hair. In fact, statistics seem to bear this feeling out, as they show that Japan is the baldest country in Asia (Czech Republic takes the honor for the world), and it isn’t just a concern for men. A large portion of the hair growth/replacement market is aimed at women.

CONTINUE READING about the hair-care industry →

Where’s the milk? School lunches no longer sacred cows

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Screen shot of February lunch menus for an elementary school in Gifu Prefecture

The February lunch menu for an elementary school in Gifu Prefecture

Last Saturday was the start of Gakko Kyushoku Shukan (School Lunch Week), an annual celebration of the meals that public elementary and junior high school students in Japan enjoy every day by force of law.

School lunches have been a point of pride for Japan’s education institutions, a means of integrating lifelong health maintenance into the standard curriculum. On another level, mandatory school lunches, as the late writer Kuniko Mukoda once famously pointed out, was the basis for the widespread idea that all Japanese belonged to the “middle class.”

Several years ago, the government said it wanted to reinforce “food education,” though it hardly seems necessary since the school lunch program already does that, and very effectively. According to law, all public school children below high school must buy lunch, and those who cannot afford it receive subsidies from the authorities. Each school will have its own nutritionist to make sure the children receive properly balanced meals. In terms of cost, the ingredients for the meals will be paid for by the students, meaning their parents, while labor, maintenance and other related expenses are taken care of by local governments with help from the central government.

This latter element has lately been challenged as more local governments look for ways to cut their budgets. Last summer, Sanjo, a city in Niigata Prefecture, “experimentally” stopped serving milk with lunches at 30 public schools. The ostensible reason, according to the mayor, was that parents complained that milk doesn’t fit in with the Japanese cuisine the schools served.

CONTINUE READING about school lunches →

More convenience stores adopting restaurant functions, and vice versa

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Drink 'em if you got 'em: Counter area in a new Family Mart being built in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture

Drink ’em if you got ’em: Counter area in a new Family Mart being built in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture

Ministop, the fifth largest convenience store chain in Japan with 2,200 outlets nationwide, was the first of its ilk to provide counters, tables and chairs for patrons who preferred to consume their purchases on the premises. Because of relatively lax tax laws in Japan, they could do it without having to charge more. This service was originally devised as a gimmick that would differentiate Ministop from other chains, and for years no other CS chain felt that it needed to do the same thing.

Last summer, Ministop, which belongs to the Aeon retail conglomerate, expanded on this idea with an offshoot called Cisca, an abbreviation for “city small cafe.” It’s basically a more attractively appointed convenient store centered around the sit-down space. So far, only one Cisca has opened, in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, and according to Asahi Shimbun the target is women who work in the area. The selection is more limited than what you would find in a regular Ministop, with the focus on high quality deli items and beverages, including fresh coffee and alcoholic drinks.

The “eating corner” seats only 17, but what really distinguishes Cisca from other Ministops is that eating-in is encouraged with free use of utensils. You can buy a bottle of wine for ¥700, for instance, and drink it right there, because they will provide you with wine glasses. Each seat also has its own electrical outlet. According to Ministop’s publicity department, since the store opened it’s been almost continually full.

Cisca is part of a trend taking place in both the retail and restaurant trades toward a more practical and less expensive view of dining out. Half of the new outlets opened by CS giant Family Mart since the beginning of 2013 also have sit-down counters and tables.

CONTINUE READING about convenience-store meal corners →

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