Back to Contents of Issue: May 2003

Christmas wish list, singing along in Saitama and trends in pasta.

Two front teeth? Toymaker Bandai, whose business it is to know such things, asked kids what they really wanted for Christmas. Here are the most frequently given replies in 2002, with 1997 responses shown in parentheses for comparison: 1. plush toys (Tamagotchi, a virtual pet chicken); 2. video game software (Pokemon goods); 3. clothing (plush toys); 4. undecided ("Cutie Honey" toys); 5. personal computers, including toy PCs (dolls); 6. "Oja Majo Doremi" toys (video software); 7. dolls (hand-held portable games); 7. bicycles (TV video games); 9. underpajama toys (word processors that print seals); 10. books, titles not specified (Disney toys).

Mangia, mangia. Pasta sales are booming, and Japanese are slurping up skinnier spaghetti. A survey by Nissin Foods comparing 2002 with a similar period two years earlier found that spaghetti has slimmed down considerably. Back in 2000, nearly two-thirds of noodles on the market were 1.7 mm or larger in diameter. But when checked again last year, close to half the pasta sold measured 1.6 mm in diameter or less. Sales of pasta measuring in at 1.5 mm or less grew last year by 6%, while sales of pasta that was 1.8 mm or more fell by 4%. During 2002, by the way, Japanese consumed a record 249,000 tons of pasta, of which imports accounted for a respectable 101,400 tons. That increase, says the Japan Pasta Association, is due in part to more Japanese food companies setting up factories abroad.

Sing along with Saitama. The weekly magazine Diamond rates the top 10 prefectures by their keenness on karaoke: Saitama (45%), Chiba (44), Tokyo (43), Kanagawa (43), Osaka (43), Okinawa (42), Shiga (41), Nara (40), Tochigi (40). Gunma, Yamanashi, Aichi, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka shared the 10th spot with 39 percent. The prefecture where karaoke gets the biggest thumbs-down is Aomori, with only a 29 percent participation rating.

Good providers. With the exception of the various forms of NiftyServe, which holds a 12.5% chunk of the market, none of Japan's Internet providers manage to break the double-digit barrier when it comes to market share. Here they are in descending order by percentage of users (with monthly charges for 8-Mbps ADSL connections in parentheses): Nifty --12.5% (JPY3,280); Biglobe -- 8.3% (JPY3,280); So-net -- 6.9% (JPY2,880); ODN -- 6.8% (JPY2,880); OCN -- 6.6% (JPY3,180); Dion -- 6.5% (JPY3,170); Tokyo Denwa Internet -- 4.6% (JPY2,820) and Yahoo!BB -- 4.5% (JPY3,143).

Zero emissions. Claims of environmental friendliness are not merely the preserve of manufacturers. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun also surveys businesses in non-manufacturing sectors to see what they are doing to reduce waste and conserve resources. Rated top in its field during 2002 was the Seibu Department Store chain, which scored high marks in seven criteria: operation system (96 points out of a possible 100); publicizing of information (85); promotional activities and services (97); vision (77); risk management (90); recycling of resources (90) and measures to prevent global warming (100).

Razor-thin profits. What items have the most attractive markup from the unit cost of manufacturing? Dacapo magazine produced this list: vitamins and other dietary supplements (only 5%); designer brand goods (10-20); a martini at a bar (18); a "sour" mixed drink at an izakaya (23); french fries at a fast food outlet (20); jewelry (25); home delivery pizza (29); miso ramen noodles (29); curry from a specialty shop (30-35); food items at an Italian restaurant (30); coffee at a chain (35); food items at an izakaya (35); roasted sweet potato from a street vendor (38); cosmetics (40); hot box lunch (47); kaiten (rotating) sushi (40-50); mail order goods (50); wine at an Italian restaurant (50); gyudon beef over rice (50); fast-food hamburgers (60) and items at JPY100 shops (60-70).

Been there, going back again. Sunday Mainichi surveyed those places in Tokyo that impressed people enough to warrant a return trip. Ranked first with 33.8% was the Marunouchi Building, opened in September 2002. This was followed by Ebisu Garden Place (29.2%); Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku (26.1); Palette Town at Odaiba (25.8); Sunshine City at Ikebukuro (23.4); Decks Tokyo Beach at Odaiba (19.7); the Yurakucho Mullion (19.7); Caletta Shiodome near Shimbashi (15.3) and Shibuya 109 (14.8). One little bit of local knowledge: the 109 is pronounced "one-oh-nine," but the numbers can also be read "Tokyu" -- the name of the railway company that dominates commercial activities in the Shibuya district.

Bottoms up. A survey of the beer market by Jokai Times, a trade publication of the brewing industry, rated Japan's best-selling brands in 2002. Asahi Super Dry remained the nation's top seller, with 159.55 million cases shipped. The first five places were dominated by the big two, Asahi and Kirin, and no foreign brands figured in the top 25. After Super Dry came Kirin Tanrei (malt beverage, 60.5 million cases); Kirin Lager (50.5 million cases); Asahi Honnama (malt beverage, 47 million cases) and Kirin Ichiban Shibori (40.98 million cases). The top 10 was rounded out by Sapporo Black Label; Sapporo's Hokkaido Nama Shibori (malt beverage); Suntory Malt's Draft; Kirin Tanrei Green Label (malt) and Suntory's Magnum Dry Soukai Shikomi (malt).

Potpourri (as reported in the Asahi Shimbun). When asked by the "be monitor" organization what types of stewed foods respondents eat most frequently, the top three, with almost equal votes, were sukiyaki, with 459 votes; yosenabe (seafood), with 457 and yudofu (boiled tofu), with 445. Other popular boiled dishes included tori mizutaki (chicken), with 316; shabushabu (usually beef), 290; udon-sukiyaki (noodles with beef), 240; chige (Korean-style stew), 172 and khaki dotenabe (oysters), 83. The most unpleasant things people say they encountered on commuter trains, in descending order, were people allowing their children to go on a rampage (729 votes), talking on a cellphone (716), sitting with legs spread open (701), talking in a loud voice (610), groping women (604), spreading open the pages of one's newspaper (525), playing a personal stereo too loudly (520), applying cosmetics (501), falling asleep and leaning against one's neighbor (387) and couples who engage in public displays of affection (375). @

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