Tagged: shopping

Ramsay Ramblings 4/21/2008

Is the weekend over already? Time seems to be flying these days. We are well into spring and the suzumushi (bell crickets) are piercing my brain with their high pitched singing. It must be time for some more Ramsay Ramblings!

5 yen a bag, or take a box for free!

Free cardboard boxes at supermarkets near you now!Today, my mother-in-law came by for a visit, but before she did, she stopped off to buy some groceries. Now, in some parts of the country, perhaps at selected supermarkets, they are charging 5 yen for every shopping bag you use. Apparently, by encouraging people to bring their own reusable bags, supermarkets can reduce the “billions of plastic bags [that] are choking our planet” (reuseablebags.com).

Personally, I’m not convinced that shoppers will take the bait, and supermarkets will make a small fortune off these 5 yen bag sales… or will they? It turns out that my mother-in-law opted for a free cardboard box, rather than pay the 5 yen!

Yes, free cardboard box. Why pay for a plastic bag when you can get a cardboard box for free? :roll:

Mike McKinlay stuck in Seattle for 24 hours

Net Buddy 4 Life, Mike McKinlay, should have been in Japan by now on the start of his three-week vacation. However, when I opened my email box, I got this…

Hey net buddy… I’m in Seattle right now.. and yes I’ve missed my plane.. remember that snow storm in Calgary? Well that probably made our plane late which made us miss our connection… Don’t ever complain to me about high winds ruining your honeymoon flight again! Sure, you missed your connections, but this has caused me a full 24 hour delay! Actually, nothing really good happened today… more bad news that I can tell you about later when i see you!

Mike, if you’re reading this from an airport somewhere, our thoughts are with you! Be strong Net Buddy!

Watch out or I’ll spam you!

I’m a regular commentator over on Jason Irwin‘s blog, but it seems I’m leaving comments without even knowing about it! In his post, Spammers Are Getting Stupid-er-er, Jason uses an example of someone spamming his site as me! Take a look, it really is amazing how far people will go these days!

Which looks better?

Don’t think for more than two seconds. Just look at these screen shots and tell me which you prefer.

Comparing Math Worksheet Wizard Styles

Those pictures are from my Math Worksheet Wizard website. I prefer one color/logo scheme while my wife prefers the other. This is what I do with my time. I make math worksheets. I’ve finished the kindergarten section and have most of first grade done. At this pace, I should have the whole elementary school math curriculum done by the end of September. Okay, I’m not a math teacher, but fortunately my mum is, and she’s kindly helping me along. Thanks mum! :)

That wraps up another Ramsay Ramblings. Thanks for reading!

Yahoo Comparison Exposes Quirky Japanese Culture

On January 1st 2008, Yahoo! Japan officially unveiled their redesigned web portal. Despite Yahoo’s popularity among the Japanese (over 60% share of the search engine market), we’ve had to wait this long for them to come up with a flashy web 2.0 style homepage.

Pushing slow adopters to increase their screen resolution

With so many people in this country using Yahoo! I was quite surprised they dropped the old 800-pixel-wide layout and opted for 1024 pixels. This could be one of the most overlooked steps in forcing people to increase their screen resolution. Not everyone in Japan is a tech-savvy otaku, and even my own mum was using 800×600 until recently. Anyway, it’s a positive step and gives us more room for advertising! ;-)

Examining cultural differences with the Yahoo navigation menu

Here is a picture showing the US (.com) version of Yahoo’s navigation menu on the left, and the Japanese version on the right, complete with my dodgy translations.

Yahoo navigation menu comparison

I find comparing the two quite fascinating and it shows a lot about Japanese culture. For example:

  • Yahoo Auctions are right up there below Shopping in the Japanese menu. I realize the US version is in alphabetical order, but the Japanese menu is probably in order of popularity, showing Japan’s love for retail.
  • Travel in the Japanese menu refers to “rail routes”. When you follow the link, you choose your starting station and destination, click the button, and are instantly presented with a step-by-step guide to getting where you want to go. Very fancy, but essential for Japan’s millions of train commuters.
  • Cuisine, restaurants, food, gourmet, whatever you want to call it. Japan loves food, and that’s an understatement. Yahoo knows this all too well, and satisfies their passion for eating in and out with restaurant and cooking guides galore.
  • Beauty is a new section, and one that will be welcomed by the masses. Second to their craving for good food, Japanese people are obsessed with beauty. Yahoo lists all the latest trends in cosmetics, massage and dieting. This will be of particular interest to those suffering from metabolic syndrome, which almost everybody here believes they are!
  • Divination is much more than just horoscopes. We’re talking superstitions of supernatural proportions. It could be astrological predictions by Kazuko Hosoki, Ehara’s ghostly meetings with the deceased, lucky charms made of elephant dung, or the years of bad luck that can only be yakudoshi. Japanese people love this stuff!
  • Pets is another new category and seems to tap into the Japanese need to ooooh! and aaaah! at the cute little dogs in pet store windows. There’s not much more than pet photo albums on Yahoo, but that’s probably all they need to keep people using Yahoo forever and ever and ever.

That pretty much sums up modern Japanese culture, and shows just why Google is still lagging behind Yahoo in Japan. We don’t need accurate search results here! We just need horoscopes, cosmetics and puppies!

ECO – Japan’s New Buzzword?

There was a ridiculously long documentary on Japanese TV tonight about Al Gore’s new cause, global warming. I sat through the first three hours; watched ants eating houses, deer ravaging Hokkaido, watermelons growing in November, hybrid iguanas and evil konbini bentos (those CO2 polluting lunch boxes sold at convenience stores).

While I much preferred Al’s DVD, An Inconvenient Truth, some of what they showed was quite convincing, and would no doubt encourage the mass purchase of environmentally friendly products. In fact, there seems to be an “eco-friendly” boom happening, as more and more household appliances get labeled with an ECO badge.

What makes a product eco-friendly?

ECO, wrongly pronounced in Japan as echo, looks likely to be this year’s buzzword, as the move to halt global warming picks up speed. What concerns me at the moment is that there doesn’t seem to be any regulation over what items are ECO and what aren’t.

Let’s look at an example. Here’s a new air conditioner from Sharp. Notice that it is a self-proclaimed eco-friendly, energy efficient machine. Please excuse the fact that it’s a 2006 model, it was the cheapest ECO air conditioner I found on Yahoo Japan Shopping.

Eco-friendly 2006 air conditioner

Notice also how it only uses 2.2 kilowatts of power on “cool” mode, and 2.5 kilowatts on “warm” mode. Pretty energy efficient, right? Well, let’s have a look at an older, 2002 air conditioner from National, one without an ECO label. I found this one on Yahoo Japan Auctions.

Non-Eco-friendly 2002 air conditioner

Just because it says ECO, doesn’t mean it is true

As you can see, there is no difference whatsoever in their power consumption. I’m no electrician, and don’t know anything about air conditioners other than what’s on the remote control, so maybe I’m missing something here. What I am sure of though, is that companies will take advantage of the consumer’s desire to be environmentally friendly, and will market their products as such. So, buyers beware!

Self-Service Supermarket Checkouts in Japan

England has always seemed to be quite advanced when it comes to supermarket technology. They had long, spacious, barcode-reading checkouts when I was 17 and worked in the frozen section of Waitrose. It wasn’t many years later before they introduced hand-held, customer-carried barcode readers so shoppers could check prices for themselves. People buying less then ten items have been able to go through an “express” checkout for years, and all that time, the checkout girls and boys have been allowed to sit down while they worked.

The typical Japanese supermarket checkout

Over here in Japan, things have been quite different. It’s still usual for the Japanese checkout to be short and narrow, with no space to pack your bags – you have to carry your basket of food to a seperate table and pack your things there. The staff usually stand up all day and bow at every customer who passes their cash register. It’s also very unlikely that you’ll find an “express” checkout (probably because most Japanese freezers won’t hold more than ten items anyway!).

Japanese self-service supermarket checkout

Self-service cash register in JapanIt was to our surprise then that when we went shopping at the AEON Jusco supermarket in Fuso, we found self-service cash registers for people with 10 items or less! I don’t know if the self-service checkout is already a common sight in the UK, but it’s new to me. Mami and I decided to give it a try.

Basically, you just hold each item in front of the barcode reader, just as the staff usually would, and you follow the instructions on the screen - all in Japanese I’m afraid. The computer keeps you informed visually and verbally of the cost of each item, and displays the total cost on the screen. When you’re done, you pack your bags right there and put your money in the machine. There seemed to be a few payment options, including cash and even credit card.

Security at the self-service checkout

Finally, when you’re done, you walk past a former checkout girl or boy, who thanks you and gives you a bow. Actually, they seem to be there to assist you if you need help, and also have a little command center where they can monitor the activity of all the self-service cash registers. When I asked how they’d find someone who chose not to declare some items to the almight barcode reader, they told me that such a thing hasn’t happened yet. I’ll assume that if it has happened, the sneaky shopper never got caught!

Man at self-service cash register

Mami buys our Christmas bubbly by herself

AEON Kakamigahara Shopping Center

Opening week at AEON Jusco

Mami still hasn’t been to the new shopping center that opened recently in Kakamigahara. Saying that, she hasn’t been out much at all since the baby was born. I, on the other hand, get to drive past the AEON shopping mall on my way to and from work everyday, so I had the pleasure of watching them build it over the last year, and now I can pop in to grab a Mega Mac or something for lunch.

Needless to say, it’s huge. There must be over 200 shops, and a bunch of restaurants, along with a ten-screen cinema and parking for 4,000 cars. I was really happy to see a massive Joshin electronics store in there, and shops selling toys and things that I know Rikuto will love.

It’s a welcome addition to Kakamigahara, which until now didn’t offer much in the way of shopping or entertainment.

The above was originally written (but not published) a week ago. Now there’s more to the story…

Last night, I took Mami and Rikuto to the shopping center. It was their first time, and Rikuto’s first time anywhere other than the hospital.

We were a little bit anxious taking such a young baby to such an overwhelming place, and that only grew when we couldn’t fit the pram in the car! Since Riku was already fastened into his baby chair on the back seat, we just decided to go anyway and carry him if we had to.

We were both surprised to find that the babycare facilities at AEON were excellent. We found a little pushchair and wheeled Rikuto over to the elevator. Our first stop was the baby section on the third floor and I swear Riku’s eyes doubled in size when he saw all the toys. We stayed there for a couple of hours and spent half of that in the “baby room”.

The Baby Room is bigger than a typical Japanese apartment with rows of nappy-changing tables, a breastfeeding area, hot water on tap for making powdered milk, toilet facilities and a play area for siblings, scales to measure height and weight (Riku is now at 5kgs), nappy bins, and a vending machine for thirsty parents. Everything is spotlessly clean, too.

We came away with a new dummy for Rikuto – he loves his dummy – and a couple of 1.5 liter bottles of Coca-Cola for mum and dad (which were on sale for just a 150 yen ($1.30) each!). On my way out, I popped into the men’s room and was stunned to see full babycare facilities in there, too!

I have to take my hat off to AEON. They’ve done a superb job and we look forward to many family trips there again.

Baby Department Store

Baby department storeAcross from where they are building the new shopping center is a four-storey department store for baby stuff. Although I’ve passed it everyday on the way to work for the past two years, I never realized just how great it was! I was kicking myself after spending loads on teaching toys at Toys-R-Us, when I could have got them here much cheaper!

They’ve got everything from diapers, milk products, maternity clothes and high-tech pushchairs, to toddler tuxedos and some amazing Japanese dolls for Hinamatsuri, or the Doll’s Festival in March. I’ll take a picture next time I’m there.

Anyway, as soon as we were both off work, (a rare event when you teach six days a week and your wife works 12-hour shifts at the hospital on a random schedule!), I took Mami to see the store for herself. She was as surprised as I was to see just how much there was, but she managed to control her spending, coming away with just some stretchy underwear, and calcium supplements.

With the baby due in late July, you can be sure this will be where we’ll be spending our limited free time until then.

Aeon Jusco in Kakamigahara, Gifu!

I’m really excited about the new shopping center they’re building on the other side of town. One thing I love about Japan is the convenience of everything, and when it comes to shopping, you can’t beat a shopping center. In all honesty, there’s nothing particularly different between modern shopping malls in Japan and the ones back home, but that won’t stop me welcoming the new Aeon Jusco into my little Japanese world!

So without further ado, I present Kakamigahara’s new shopping center!

Aeon Jusco Kakamigahara

Diamond City Kirio in Ichinomiya CityYeah, okay, so it’s not finished yet, but when it’s done (late summer), it should look something like Ichinomiya City’s Diamond City Kirio, only 50% bigger! According to a Japanese blog which I can’t seem to find again, the land is 1.5 times larger than that of Diamond City, and I’ve heard various stories from students and gas station attendants which vary between “It’ll be the biggest Jusco in the city”, “It’ll be the biggest shopping center in the prefecture”, and “It’ll be the second biggest shopping center in Japan!”

It’s funny actually; I work within ten minutes drive of two of the biggest shopping centers in the area – Colorful Town and Diamond City, yet I rarely visit either of them. Why? Because although they are near, you spend 20 minutes finding a parking space, walking from your car to the elevator and eventually arriving on the shop floor.

Fortunately, this new shopping center is actually on my way to work. See that road in the picture at the top? I drive on that road everyday. So although I might find shopping far more convenient, the endless traffic jams could make my daily commute a nightmare! Yikes!

Supermarket Demons

The other day, Mami and I stopped off at our local supermarket to get some bread for my toasted sandwich maker, but ended up buying a whole trolley load of stuff. Fortunately, Japanese trolleys, or shopping carts if you prefer, are tiny.

Mini Japanese shopping carts

Anyway, stuck on the shelves were dozens of little red demons, called “Oni”. Apparently, they were there to celebrate Spring “Setsubun“, the start of Spring, which officially happens on or about February 3rd.

Demons in the supermarket

Now, while people still throw heated beans out of their doors shouting “Demons out! Luck in!” to mark the start of the new season, these little “Oni” creatures are also used to ward off evil spirits, much like gargoyles in English. So I wonder what the purpose of sticking demon faces all over the shelves at the supermarket was. To scare off the customers? “Customers out! Expiry dates in!” I don’t know, but at least the Valentine’s chocolate stand was demon-free.

Japanese oni
This chocolate is demon-free

No bread for my sandwich maker!

Toasted Sandwich MakerWhile I got Mami a nice dressing table for Christmas, she bought me a toasted sandwich maker! We called them breville makers when I was a kid, and I used to love them so this was one of the best presents I could have asked for. Most of my Christmas meals were toasted sandwiches with loads of cheese, but I was gutted when on New Year’s Eve, we went to the supermarket to get some bread and this was what greeted us:

No bread!

While I expected all the traditional New Year’s food to be in short supply, I hardly expected there to be no bread! Hopefully they’ll have some next time we go shopping. Fingers crossed!