Archive for the ‘Consumer tips’ Category

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 →

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 →

Annals of Cheap: 32-inch flat screen TVs

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

In your face: Most families have already replaced their main TV with one of these huge babies

Now’s the time to buy a TV if you’re in the market to replace the old analog CRT clunker that’s been your backup. Prices for mid-size and small flat screen sets are as low as they’re ever going to get owing to several factors that happened to have converged during the last few months.

According to an article in the Mainichi Shimbun, the average price of all the TVs sold in May was a little more than ¥53,000. Moreover, the average price of TVs in the 30-39 inch size range was ¥49,000. That’s a decrease of 30 percent and 40 percent, respectively, from the same month last year. And since those are general nationwide averages, the savings become even starker when you go to discount electronics stores. In March, the average price of a 32-inch flat screen TV set at a discount store was in the ¥50,000-60,000 range, and then dropped to below ¥39,000 in May. Right now, Bic Camera near Yurakucho Station in Tokyo is selling the most vanguard types — energy-conserving LED TVs — for about ¥50,000, but older models are going for as low as ¥30,000. The store’s sales of TVs are 80 percent higher than they were for the same period last year.

Continue reading about flat-screen TVs →

LEDs make it cheaper to blind family and friends

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Freedom of choice: Lots of LEDs at Yamada Denki

The government wants you to save energy this summer because of the mess they’ve made up in Fukushima. The request is for you to reduce your consumption of electricity by 15 percent. Just in time for this setsuden (electricity reduction) season, the price of LED lamps is coming down. When LEDs first appeared on the market in 2009 the average price of a bulb was ¥3,827, according to the Light Bulb Manufacturers Association. The average price as of March was ¥2,274. Moreover, discount stores like Aeon and Don Quijote sell the 60-watt types for about ¥1,650.

Of course, when you say “60-watt type” you have to qualify the designation, since a 60-watt type LED does not, in fact, use 60 watts. Neither does a fluorescent bulb with that designation, which is still used because consumers are conditioned to think of a bulb’s brightness in terms of wattage, since that’s how you measured relative brightness with incandescent bulbs: the more power, the brighter the illumination. The same goes for fluorescents and LEDs but the proportions are much different, making comparisons almost pointless. For instance, a 60-watt type LED uses about one-eighth the power that a 60-watt incandescent bulb uses, but the brightness in terms of lumens is about half. The light bulb industry would prefer that you choose a bulb based on lumens, since the “XX-watt-type” designation is basically meaningless in the LED age.

Continue reading about LED light bulbs →

Only chumps recharge their cell phones at home

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

A popular and long-running theme on variety shows is zero-en seikatsu (no-yen living), an idea that goes beyond mere frugality to embrace a sort of charismatic philosophy. Since the March 11 earthquake and the attendant electrical power crisis, adherents of the zero-en lifestyle have been promoting the fact that sales outlets for the major mobile phone carriers all offer free battery-charging services to customers. Recently TV Tokyo’s “Sunday Big Variety” profiled a female office worker who makes a fairly good side living clipping coupons and taking part in product promotional lotteries, but the aspect of her no-spending lifestyle she was most proud of was the fact that for the last five years she hadn’t spent a single yen to recharge her phone.

DoCoMo recharger with locker.

Some people have to recharge their phones every day. How much does that normally cost if you do it at home? A number of Japanese bloggers have wondered the same thing. Apparently, it requires up to 10 watts of electricity per hour to recharge a cell phone, and the fee for household electricity is about ¥20 for 1 kilowatt per hour. Therefore, if it takes, say, four hours a day to recharge your phone, you will end up spending between ¥2 and ¥3 a month to do so. So that means the zero-en woman on the TV Tokyo show has, over five years, saved about ¥180.

To most people that won’t mean much, and for sure the providers don’t offer the recharging service for that reason. It’s mainly for busy people who need an emergency recharge when they’re not at home, and in that regard it’s a real life saver since the alternative is buying one of those clunky, expensive supplemental batteries in a convenience store. Nevertheless, the employees of the service providers don’t seem to know exactly how long it takes to recharge a cell phone. We went to several service centers that offer recharging and asked the employees how long it takes to recharge from zero, and only the DoCoMo staff was able to come up with a consistent, credible number: 2 hours. An au representative told us she didn’t know how long it took but most customers spent 30 minutes; while Softbank said only 20 minutes.

DoCoMo’s recharging service is slightly more elaborate in that it even offers juice for Mova models, which have been discontinued. They also have little “lockers”: If you can’t hang around while your phone is recharging, you can place it in a locker with a combination lock while it’s doing so and come back later. And if you want to copy data from one phone to another, or from your phone to another storage medium, like a CD, they have devices that will do that for free, too. Some service centers of DoCoMo and Softbank even have free beverage services while you wait. I’m sure that’s a big lure for zero-en tribe; even if the coffee tastes like mud, it doesn’t cost a thing.

Consumers suddenly rushing back to pariah produce

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

On Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano took part in a bazaar in front of the JR Shimbashi Station in Tokyo that featured produce from Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture. Iwaki is just outside the evacuation perimeter set by the government, and Edano assured shoppers at the bazaar that the food from Iwaki and other Fukushima farms “that are sold in markets are perfectly safe.” To prove it he ate some strawberries and tomatoes.

Edano’s reassurances recalled a similar stunt carried out by the current prime minister, Naoto Kan, in 1996 when he was the health minister during a food-poisoning outbreak that was blamed on daikon radish sprouts. In order to reassure consumers that the sprouts were in fact safe, Kan ate a bowl of them on TV. The implication is that rumors about food safety often outrun the facts, and the government has little recourse except to offer visual proof that the fear of tainted food is unsubstantiated. Usually, however, it’s the government that exacerbated the rumors in the first place.

Continue reading about self-restraint →

Western Union charges into the money transfer breach

Friday, February 25th, 2011

A year ago, a new shikin kessai-ho (funds settlement law) went into effect with regard to foreign currency exchange, and as a result it is now legal for almost any financial institution to offer overseas money transfer services. Previously, in Japan only Japanese banks could offer this service, and anyone who has tried to wire money overseas through a bank will understand why a new law was needed. Besides charging sizable handling fees (tesuryo) for sending the money on top of an exchange fee, banks seem to take forever to make it happen.

Make that to go: Travelex window in Ueno Station

Western Union, the legendary telegraph company that provides international money transfer services in 240 countries, applied in Japan last July for permission to provide overseas remittances. The company presently commands an 8 percent share of the money transfer business in Asia, and its revenues have been decreasing every year since 2006, so Japan is seen as a vital opportunity. The service would specifically target foreign workers who regularly sent money back to their home countries, a market that will only grow as Japan inevitably allows more foreigners to work here and which Japanese banks have mostly ignored, at least until now.

Many foreign workers in the past used non-profit organizations whose intentions were above-board but which nevertheless operated in a legal gray area. Japanese banks tend to charge at least ¥4,000 to remit funds overseas, no matter how small, which is OK if you’re sending money once a year, but many foreign workers send money once a month. And since the bank is usually sending the funds to an unaffiliated financial institution, that institution charges the Japanese bank a fee, too, which the sender usually has to pay. With Western Union, it’s the same company on both ends of the transaction, so there’s only one fee.

WU has hooked up with the British currency exchange service Travelex, which already has outlets in six prefectures. Fees range from ¥990 for sums under ¥10,000 to ¥12,000 for remittances between ¥500,001 and ¥700,000, which is the maximum amount that WU Japan will transfer per transaction. (According to the Funds Settlement Law, you still need to use a bank to transfer funds of more than ¥1 million.) Better yet, the transfer is instantaneous, while it normally takes a bank several days to send your money. The Asahi Shimbun has already reported on how popular the service is among foreign workers and students in Japan.

Naturally, other companies are now entering the ring. Japan Travel Bureau and the SBI Group have started overseas remittance services that are actually slightly cheaper than WU’s: ¥880 for amounts of less than ¥30,000. Until the end of March, SBI even offers a special low fee of ¥1,980 for remittances over ¥250,000. Services other than Western Union’s, however, usually charge different fees depending on the country of destination. In addition, Rakuten Bank has also started a remittance service in January with Travelex, but only for businesses. Seven Bank, the ATM banking service connected to 7-11, has partnered with Western Union and this summer will begin offering money transfer services overseas through its system of 14,000 ATMs. SBI will offer a similar service through ATMs in Family Marts and branches of Japan Post’s Yucho Bank. Though they’ve been slow to acknowledge the new competition, Japanese banks are starting to stir. In November, Sumitomo Mitsui Bank started offering a 24-hour money transfer service over the Internet whose fees are ¥500 less than what they are if you make the transfer at a branch office. All transactions made through ATMs or over the Internet require pre-registration and documentation of email addresses and identification.

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