Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Be good to your vacuum cleaner and it will suck, if you’re lucky

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Nature abhors a vacuum cleaner

Nature abhors a vacuum cleaner

Japan’s vacuum cleaner market is bigger than you might think. About 5 million are sold a year, which could be considered a lot for a country of 130 million if you think about how long a vacuum cleaner should last. Then again, there is that age-old marketing concept of planned obsolescence. Until about 10 years ago, there was little reason to go out and replace your vacuum cleaner the way you would replace, say, a television or computer. The basic mechanism of a vacuum cleaner has never changed over the years, so as long as it worked there was never much reason to want a new one. When I first came to Japan, I was given a little red Toshiba vacuum cleaner by someone who was leaving and it lasted me another 15 years.

Since then, manufacturers have added features in order to encourage people to replace perfectly good VCs like that Toshiba: floor sensors, flea zappers (for tatami), quieter motors. Such filigree only complicates the machine, providing more reasons for it to break down. About ten years ago, the big sales point, introduced by Dyson, was the so-called “cyclone” cleaner, which means no need for bags, thus reducing maintenance costs and appealing to environmentally aware people who wanted to cut down on waste. I bought one of those a few years ago, made by Mitsubishi, and it’s turned out to be a lemon. Instead of a bag, it has a complex series of compartments and a self-cleaning fan that broke down several months after the warranty ended. As a result the sucking power is diminished and every time I remove the dust I also have to take the fan apart and clean it by hand.

Continue reading about vacuum cleaners in Japan →

Be good to your fry pan, and it will be good to you

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Out of the box and into the fire...

Out of the box and into the fire…

Japanese cooking is generally less time-consuming than Western cooking. For one thing, Japanese cooking traditionally doesn’t utilize ovens. There isn’t a lot of baking or roasting going on in your average kitchen; and while some dishes may require more preparation time, the actual cooking time is relatively brief. The main denominator in determining how much time is spent at the stove is stir frying, an art that Japan got from China, so in that regard the most important implement in the Japanese kitchen is the fry pan.

To someone who is serious about cooking, a fry pan is an important investment in terms of both money and effort. Most chefs will say that iron is the optimum material, since it’s better at distributing heat and retains the nutritional value and flavor of the materials being cooked more efficiently. However, iron fry pans are also a lot of work since they have to be cared for. You can’t wash them with regular dishwashing detergent. You have to maintain them with oil so that over time the pan becomes “seasoned,” and its utility improves. If you burn something in your iron fry pan you can actually ruin it, since it may take a long time to return it to its former condition.

Continue reading about frying pans →

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 →

This tax’s for you

Friday, October 16th, 2009

So many beer-like beverages, so little time

So many beer-like beverages, so little time

Last week, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ordered the tax ministry to review the alcohol tax system, specifically in relation to beer and so-called beer-like beverages. The announcement immediately sent the major breweries into a tizzy, since the likely outcome of such a review will be a higher tax for “Number 3-type” (daisan) beverages, which are responsible for most of the profits that alcohol manufacturers have enjoyed in the past year or so.

Though Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto didn’t mention beer, the party’s policy, according to the Asahi Shimbun, is to look at the possibility of pegging the beer tax to a beverage’s alcohol level, which is the way liquor taxes tend to be determined overseas. At present, daisan beverages and happoshu are taxed at much lower rates than beer, even though the alcohol levels of all three are comparable. If the DPJ does peg tax rates to alcohol levels, then the prices of all three beverages will likely become the same or close to the same; a situation that would essentially render daisan and happoshu meaningless, since the only reason they sell so well is that they’re much cheaper than beer. A 350-ml can of daisan, for example, is on average about ¥80 yen cheaper than an equivalent-sized can of beer.

Continue reading about alcohol tax →

Many happy repairs

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

New Wave

We tend not to buy a lot of stuff any more because we have almost everything we want, which isn’t a lot in the first place. Moreover, if something breaks we’re likely to have it fixed, even if the warranty has expired. Maybe that sounds quaint, but in more than half the cases where we did have something repaired post-warranty, the manufacturer charged only a nominal fee, and in some instances they charged nothing, not even for parts.

Companies would probably prefer we throw the old thing away and buy a new one, but, of course, there’s no guarantee we’d buy their model again. And I’ve found that in Japan, especially, pride in one’s products usually trumps any short-term financial consideration, even if the manufacturer isn’t actually Japanese.

A recent example. In 2003 we bought a Bose Wave Music System, one of those small integrated radio-CD combos you often see in dentist offices. A few months ago the CD player went on the blink, as CD players tend to do after the warranty expires. It would be easy just to hook up an auxiliary CD player or, more practically, an MP3 player, because the sound is so good. But we decided it was worth it to get it fixed, and packed it off to the Bose service center.

Continue reading about warranties →

Annals of cheap: Garigari-kun

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

garigari2a

The two original flavors: “soda” (top) and “muscat of Alexandria”

It’s been a relatively cool summer overall, and while the temperatures have had something to do with the drop in sales of beer (or “beer-like” beverages) and air conditioners, it doesn’t seem to have had much of an adverse effect on Japan’s favorite packaged frozen snack, Garigari-kun, which added a few new flavors this past season.

Garigari-kun is classified as “bo (stick or bar) ice candy,” which means it has a lot of competition. Ice candy is more popular in Japan than ice cream owing to its associations with the traditional summer treat kakigori (shaved ice), and if you look in your local convenience store freezer you’ll find a large and confusing array of ice candy, both bar and cup types, that seem interchangeable. But Garigari-kun always outsells them all by a huge margin, and one of the reasons is the price: only ¥60. The Sankei-Fuji website says that the dairy company Akagi Nyugyo sold 255 million Garigari-kun bars in 2008.

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