Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

Tracking the recession with the Moyashi Index

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Not just for rabbits any more!

Not just for rabbits any more!

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications just released economic figures for the last quarter of calendar year 2009. Their survey found that the average expenditures of a Japanese household, including one-person households, was ¥253,720. That’s a 2.9 percent decrease from the same quarter in 2008, or 1.4 percent down if you take into consideration price changes.

This figure means little unless you know the  income of an average family, which has 2.79 members and an average age of 45.2 years. Among “working households,” meaning households whose income is from employment and not from pensions, the average monthly income was ¥464, 649, which represented a 4.6 percent drop from the same quarter the previous year, or 3.1 percent after adjustment.

These statistics indicate that households spent less because of a decrease in earnings, and since certain expenses can’t be cut or reduced, such as utilities and expenses for education, the ministry tried to figure out what these households were doing without. Leisure, eating out and clothing were three items that received the axe, and since more people were eating at home, they also tried to save money at the supermarket.

And according to the Asahi Shimbun, the ministry found that households consisting of two persons or more reported a 10 percent increase in their consumption of moyashi (bean sprouts) over the same quarter in 2008. In fact, the ministry discovered that moyashi consumption has increased steadily over a period of 10 consecutive quarters.

The focus on the lowly bean sprout here would seem to indicate that the ministry has decided moyashi is a good index for determining the economic health of the average household. Moyashi are cheap and plentiful. A bag weighing 200 grams is usually between  ¥35 and ¥40 yen in a supermarket, but you can usually buy the same amount for ¥29 in discount food stores and even cheaper on special sales days. Japanese traditionally use moyashi to increase volume for any number of dishes, but there’s also a whole  food culture built around the sprout. Made from mung beans, they are also notoriously nutritious and always in season, since they aren’t “grown” in soil but rather sprouted in water. What’s interesting is that the government assumes people are buying more moyashi not because they like it or want a healthier diet, but because they want to save money. We won’t argue with that, but we also really like moyashi. Especially in ramen.

Notes on the end of the department store (as we know it)

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Shop til you drop...from boredom

Shop till you drop…from boredom

The announcement that the Seibu department store in the Mullion twin building complex in Ginza will close at the end of the year has occasioned a lot of nostalgic ruminations in the media, even though the complex itself didn’t open until 1984. Seibu is, relatively speaking, a youngster in the annals of the Japanese department store. The older, established stores, like Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakawa and Takashimaya, are still around (though struggling), which is really quite surprising since the whole department store paradigm became passé after the bubble era. If the younger stores like Seibu, Hankyu (which just announced it would soon close its iconic Kyoto store) and Tokyu are biting the dust before their elders it’s mainly because their initial function had less to do with retail sales than with beefing up their respective owners’ main businesses, namely railroads.

The older stores had their roots in the mercantile culture of old Edo or Nagoya or Osaka. The newer stores were built by railway companies that needed something that  would make people use the trains on the weekends. Before the 1970s there were only small grocery stores and company-owned electronics dealers in the suburbs. For the full shopping experience, you had to get on the train and go to an urban center.

So railway companies bought land at main terminuses and built department stores there. Seibu’s was Ikebukuro Station. These department stores thrived because once people started having disposable income in the the 1960s they wanted to spend it. So the companies built other department stores, and not necessarily at their own terminuses.

Continue reading about department stores in Japan →

Jeans on the cheap

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

If you need jeans at 4 in the morning you know where to go

If you need jeans at 4 in the morning you know where to go

As apparel goes, jeans fill a unique niche. Originally marketed strictly as work clothing whose main sales point was durability, ever since the ’60s denim trousers have become ubiquitous, first as the uniform of the counter-culture, then as a template onto which various high-rent designers projected their hip cachet, and finally as pretty much the world’s de facto leisure wear. Levis, the original jean manufacturer, can charge anything it wants and in such a way became the standard for pricing. Anything more expensive than a pair of basic 501s was considered ostentatious; anything cheaper was, well, cheap.

Last March, discount clothier Uniqlo broke the thousand-yen barrier at its even cheaper retail subsidiary g.u. (or jiyu, which means “freedom”) by putting on sale jeans that cost ¥990. Since then, other cheapo retailers have followed suit and last week the discount chain Don Quijote announced that it would be selling its own “private brand” (PB) of jeans called Jonetsu Kagaku (passionate price) for only ¥690 per pair.

Continue reading about cheap jeans →

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