Consumption tax: environmental consequence

The 2% increase has a knock-on effect

A set meal (with added plastic…)

 On midnight on October 1st, consumption tax in Japan increased by 2% for some products. This has mostly affected ‘luxuries’ including alcohol, tobacco and sit in meals.

The last one has had strange effects, Japan Today reports that supermarkets have removed benches as they don’t want to be seen as a sit-in eatery and thus people are required to pay an extra 2% (how this would work after checking out I don’t know).

While watching a daytime talk show at the gym (strange I know), they were reporting that many people are now getting food to go rather than sit in. Personally, this seems a bit petty. For example, if you order 牛丼 (ぎゅうどん-gyuudon) or a beef bowl with rice, it may cost 380 JPY to go or 387 JPY to sit in. That saving of seven yen has resulted in more and more people getting their food to go instead of sitting in. This has resulted in further use of single use plastics as bowls, wrappings for chopsticks, wrappings for serviettes etc.

Or simply put, a saving of seven yen may help your wallet, but it may further destroy the environment.

What can be done? There would need to be a change of customer service culture in Japan and an attitude change towards sustainability i.e. allowing the use of reusable containers. Such changes are coming extremely slowly- so don’t expect miracles.

For the moment, plastic is king in Japan- the environment is second.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Review: Axtos gym

A good gym for the price?

I will say I am a member of Axtos gym under the anytime plan with insurance. The reason why I say this is that it costs me just over 10,000 JPY a month to go (and I may have been quite bad in the last month…). But is Axtos worth it?

Axtos offers several levels of membership from daytime (mornings), anytime, professional, to evenings and weekends only. It is a strange system, but the most basic package is 7000 JPY (for daytime), and each additional time that you can go, increases the price. Insurance is an extra 500 JPY a month- but you do get a discount card for quite a few places across Japan.

Axtos in Nabari has a swimming pool, free weights, cardio equipment, Sauna, and general weight training equipment. But there is one VERY importance difference compared to western gyms- etiquette.

You arrive to the gym in whatever footwear you desire, then take them off, put them into a shoe locker and go to the changing room. You only put on your training shoes once you enter the exercise area- want to do yoga or use the mats? Take off your shoes. Forgot something in the locker room? Take off your shoes.

This is a classic example of inside and outside culture in Japan but more likely at Axtos is for hygiene reasons.

The last bit of etiquette is that you are expected to clean any equipment you use (and clean well). This is one policy I wish all gyms in the UK followed so strictly.

Do I enjoy going? Yes, I love it (I’m known as the foreigner who goes to Axtos). Do I think there could be more equipment and weights- definitely? Why haven’t I gone? Lazy/ I did not go with an injured foot (didn’t stop working out without the gym though). Is it the best gym in the world and 100% worth the money- I’ll use the German word Jein (yes and no). Why haven’t I changed gym then?

Nabari doesn’t have much choice and it is the best and most convenient gym in this area.

Overall, (this will sound strange) I would continue to go even if there was another gym. All the staff are professional, I have had some brilliant conversations with people- and seeing a 60-year-old do full on yoga when you cannot touch your toes is humbling. DO I wish it was cheaper, of course but the price ensures that I go (ignoring the last month).

My one word of caution, Japanese only. But if you do have a Japanese friend who’s a member and they refer you, you’ll get a 1000 JPY gift card- it’s a little something at least!

When will I go back? I’m there now- go health month!

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Opinion: The Japan I know

Disclaimer: Japan does annoy me at times (like so many other countries I have visited) but it is the richness of language and of culture that I adore- anime and manga not so much.

Whenever you speak to someone who has visited Japan, they will always speak about the mass of people, the numerous shops and the hive of activity that is ever present, but this is a stark contract to the Japan I know and love.

While most major cities are congested and claustrophobic- with buildings, business, people and marketing everywhere (just think downtown Akihabara, Shubuya, Nagoya, Osaka etc), true Japan is off the beaten track and away from tourists.

Iga is a perfect example, ignoring 2 weeks a year. There are many cultural and historical sites in this small city, a strong historical tradition (of Ninjas) and a distinct identity. Nabari is similar in feeling being so close to Iga- there is the same ethos, same identity.

While there are these aspects in the major cities, they’re harder to find. In Tokyo, Asakusa feels more distinct than Shibuya and in Nagoya, Osu feels like a completely different world to downtown Nagoya. That is what a lot of major cities are missing: an identity.

When looking at Nabari, most (even myself at times) see it as a commuter town- one where people love to work in other places but even that statement is overly harsh. Nabari has thriving industries- agriculture and manufacturing- schools, hospitals, business centres; while it may feel like there is nothing there at times- it’s the countryside. What is there is needed and nothing more.

One statement I have heard many Japanese people say is “if you dropped me in a random city, without my phone, I would not know where I am”. For some cities this is harsh. Sapporo, for example, has been based upon an American grid layout- you could be at 北8東8and due to the city design it feels distinct. But if you were dropped in a housing estate in 日進市- Nisshin City (outside Nagoya), you could not tell me what part of Aichi (never mind Japan) you were in.

While identity is important for so many cities around the world, for Japan (at times) this seems overlooked and possible an afterthought. Some cities have areas that are special, but they have much larger areas that are forgettable. I hope by reading my journeys around Japan, I can combat this, even if just a bit.

What are your views on this post? Agree or disagree?

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Nafco

The homestore that has everything

When living in Japan, occasionally there is a need to buy furniture, tools or other common items that help a house run smoothly- enter Nafco.

Nafco is a home furniture giant that have hundreds of stores scattered across Japan, mostly concentrated in Kyushu (with 194 stores) and radiating outwards to further regions- each with less stores, Hokkaido having none.

But what does such a store have, you may ask. Nafco has everything from building supplies, gardening supplies, cleaning products, pet products, bicycles, furniture, beds, kitchens, and even coffee.

But my favourite sections are the reduced sections (no surprise there)- they usually sell off their old products at very good process but there is still a ‘it’s cheap for Japan’ feeling on occasion with a wireless mouse for 3000 JPY (with 30% off).

General household items are usually brilliant prices. Soaps, shampoo, laundry detergent- or any other cleaning supply is very cheap when compared to a supermarket. This extends to their stationery and pet food sections.

Additionally, they have a work clothing section- for which I do frequent- with a good range of products at a brilliant price. If your feet are normal sized (not Godzilla sized) they also sell a good range of footwear from crocs, to trainers/sneakers, to work gear, and wellington boots.

The homeware section is massive (an entire floor of it) and they sell so many items. While shopping, there is not a feeling of being in a warehouse (like other massive stores) but a department store instead- which always helps.

If you ever needed a proper desk or computer gaming chair- they can also be bought here starting at 12,000 JPY- which is a normal price for the US and UK markets.

Finally, there is also a point card available. When you spend money here, you acuminate points which can be used to either reduce the price of future transactions or completely pay for them.  

Conclusion, it’s a very good place to go to but be careful in pricing- it can be a bit up and down at times and the gardening section has many plants- brilliant for your gardening needs.

If you have the inclination, please check it out.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Opinion: the decline of Daiso

Know as Japan’s dollar store, but should it be?

Daiso I known to many as being the epi-centre of all things cheap. From Electronics, to cosmetics, food, DVDs etc. It has it all.

Additionally there are many YouTube videos that feature tag lines such as “I buy dollar store makeup”, “I buy food from the dollar store” (note: if you want to see how prolific this is, just search ‘daiso’ on YouTube- the hits DO NOT END).

But the problem is that not all items are 100 JPY, some are 300, 400, 500 or higher and that is my first problem- it is NOT a dollar store nor is it as true 百円ショップ (ひゃくえん-100 yen)shop and It never claims to be- despite so much western media attention depicting it as that.

Another problem is that, while they have a good selection, shopping there makes you feel cheap or to put it a different way- it’s 100 yen, I suppose I can buy it at that price. Which is NOT how you want to feel shopping, it should be more “I can’t believe that it is only 100 yen”. Additionally, some items are of a poor quality which makes you as a very basic question- what am I buying.

But is there an alternative?

Of course, its Japan at the end of the day. My favourite and true 百円ショップ is Seria which to put briefly here (as the review is to come), seems to have much better quality of stock, has themed sections and displays, is always busy (having a lot of other people in a store helps your confidence when buying), and most importantly everything is actually 100 JPY + tax (so 108 JPY at time of writing).

Opinion: Fiore Maede Casa Florist

Here’s a little that’ll grow on you

Occasionally when you look around your apartment, it just looks a bit empty. There’s something missing- I take it you know what I mean?

I went a little out of my way this week to Aeon Town Iga Ueno (イオンタウン伊賀上野) in Iga-city and while there I noticed a florist and immediately, I knew what was missing.

I went in and there was a good selection and the arrangements were also quite spooky- it is coming up to Halloween after all. The plants (the important bit) were looked after and the attendant was extremely friendly and happy for me to take a photo (the important bit!). Additionally, it is very reasonably priced (the most important aspect).

The chain of florists are all located in Mie Prefecture (三重県―みえけん) in three cities: Matsusaka (松阪市), Tsu (津市), and Iga (伊賀)- so there are quite clustered together.

If your close to one and you have a need for a nice plant- either indoor, outdoors or flowers for a grave, please check it out- it is definitely worth a visit.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Consumption tax increase

Panic panic beer will be more expensive

If you are in Japan, you cannot escape the news of the consumer tax increase and I hate to say it but it’s nothing to worry about.

Countdown to the tax increase

The tax is increasing from 8% to 10% but not everything will increase. Daily necessities will stay at 8% and so will food to go. On the increase is sit-in meals, alcohol, tobacco, taxis etc.

Notification of tax increase on the Iga-tetsu line

Firstly advice, if an extra 2% is something that you are worried about, complete all transactions at restaurants, train stations, qwith taxi companies by 23:59:59 on September 30th because at 00:00:00 October 1st the tax rate goes into effect–or see the dual tax rate on your reciet at a convince store.

Now in reality, it’s nothing to worry about, it may affect your budget at fist but the changed will soon go unnoticed.

Personally, I think there is more worry about than a slight tax increase.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Review: Vie de France

A little bit of a treat, at a good price

Like any good coffee addict, I need my coffee to pretend I can act like a normal human. Luckily, Vie de France has by back.

Vie de France is the quintessential Japanese French bakery- that is to say a cherry-picked French cuisine for the Japanese market. They offer a good range of baked goods, all of which are delicious, and I have yet to find a bad product.

But, I have yet to see traditional French bread here- despite its name. But it does have one advantage, they’re always by a train station so there’s always time for a treat on the go.

The bread in the picture is a cheese and apple filled bun- which is my favourite thing to get and very sweet (it goes very well with pure black coffee)- please ignore the milk coffee- DEFINITELY not mine.

If you have the time, or just need your fix, please check it out.

As always, happy exploring and enjoy that coffee.

Opinion: milk bags are fine but yoghurt bags….

When shopping takes a weird turn

When going to a supermarket, you generally know every product in a store and where it’s located. In addition to this, you know the best day and times to buy the products. For me, I have this down to an art.

But occasionally, out of nowhere a weird product comes your way. Introducing the yoghurt bag….

I will say that I did not buy it- the eagle eyed among you would have already seen the price 797 JPY (or 7 USD for 800 g) which is day light robbery.

In addition to this, its in a bag- if dropped the resulting explosion would mean I don’t have to repaint my walls. With this, I personally had 2 problems: a. I travel by bike (trying to beep this in one piece wouldn’t have been fun) and b. I know the Japanese are not keen on reducing plastic waste but having additional plastic to strengthen the product seems like over kill.

Perhaps this is commonplace, and I simply need to get out more.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.  

Opinion: emergency coffee stat

You forgotten to get coffee, now what?

As with any coffee addict, I need coffee to function in the morning, noon, night, any other time I have missed. But what do you don when the coffee jar is empty?

First: DONT PANIC. Convenience stores in Japan have you back, there is usually a coffee machine or pre-done coffees in a hot fridge- the perfect drinking temperature.

As there are many opinions as to what constitutes a perfect cuppa, there are as many options available in pre-done form- I would always go for fresh though.

What would my recommendation be? I hear you didn’t ask, well it would be the black strong coffee from Family mart- it strong, good tasting and cheap.

The only problem you’ll have now is wanting another one- you’re welcome.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.