* * * * * * * * * F R U G A L W A T C H * * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of how to be frugal in the world's most
expensive country to live (unless you read this!), written
and compiled by Wendy J. Imura.

Regular edition, Sunday 4 April, 2004 Issue No. 004


- What's new
- Frugal news
- Frugal tips
- Credits

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Dear Frugal Readers,

The end of March and beginning of April always seem to bring a period
of transition to Japan. The new corporate fiscal year starts, bringing
it a flock of fresh new faces and transfers. The new school year begins,
and students with sparking new 'randosel' backpacks and school uniforms
just a little bit too big for them can be seen on the streets. Add the
blossoms, and you can't help but feel a little celebratory yourself.

The end of March is also a wonderful time for finding great deals on home
furnishings and other goodies from "sayonara sales" and general spring
cleaning. But this time of year also finds many people becoming extremely
motivated sellers. There is a panicky feeling that descends as the movers
start wondering how on earth they will empty their entire apartments in a
week's time. Carefully orchestrated plans to sell off furniture to the
bidder become a wild scramble to unload anything on anyone who will take
it. The two takers of last resort - recycle shops and the 'sodai gomi'
(large refuse) collection agencies - are often found to be less help than one
might expect. Recycle shops can refuse to take belongings if they are
overstocked, or might even charge you to dispose of your items.
The large refuse collection agencies at local city or ward offices
also often only make stops once every week, which is inconvenient if
you plan on moving before then. In the midst of a busy international move,
disposing of items can certainly be a challenge.

Selling or giving your items away to other foreigners living in Japan is a
great way to empty your apartment. Planning several months in advance as
to what you will sell, and how and when you will sell it, will also be a help.
There are several community resources around Tokyo that can help you.
A well-known place to start is by placing an ad in Metropolis
(www.metropolis.co.jp), advertising a "sayonara sale". Posting a notice at
a public board (such as the bulletin boards at the National Azabu grocery
store in Hiroo) is also a great way to get the word out. Are you a
member of any online communities or ex-pat focused organizations in
Japan? Advertise your for-sale items on mailing lists or in publications for
these groups if it’s allowed - expanding your target audience is bound to
improve the chances of your items getting noticed.

Here are a few tips for organizing an effective sayonara sale. Many people
find that creating a simple web page, including photos and prices of the items
you wish to sell, can expedite the selling process. Another important factor is
pricing items to sell. While some unique or expensive items (such as luxury goods,
collectors' items, brand new electronics, or antiques) might be worth close to their
original price, most average household goods and electronics should be priced low
enough to move. My general rule of thumb is 20-40% of the original sale price,
and I've never had a problem quickly selling items. Really - is the goal of the
sayonara sale to make money, or to get rid of your stuff in time for your move?
Finally, be honest in your item descriptions - note if there is any wear or
damage to the item. It is unlikely that curtains used for three years in a Tokyo
apartment are "as new!"

Well, Frugal Readers, please enjoy these fine spring days, and stay tuned
for next week's Frugal Watch!

Frugally yours,
Wendy J. Imura

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*You might notice some confusing new price tags in Japan as you do your
shopping over the next few weeks. A new law is coming into effect, as
reported by the 31 March 2004 Nikkei Shinbun, that "requires retailers
and service providers to include the 5% consumption tax in posted prices
from April." What does this mean for the average consumer? Confusion,
most likely. While the law was designed to reduce confusion by requiring
that the national 5% consumption tax be reflected in price displays,
retailers can actually choose one of four different price display methods.
While most large discount supermarkets are choosing to display tax-inclusive
prices, major department stores will display both pre- and after-tax
prices, while drug stores will only reflect tax-inclusive prices on special
sale items. What's worse, some discount stores will be displaying both pre-
and after-tax prices, but the cheaper, after-tax prices more prominently.
Frugal shoppers will have to keep a sharper eye out to make sure they are
comparing similar prices while shopping!

*Tired of the dismal interest rates (0.001%?) offered by Japanese banks?
Why not look into a 'gaika yokin,' or foreign-currency denominated savings
account? Depending on the product, you might be able to find interest rates
on Australian or New Zealand dollar accounts in the 3-4% annual range.
(Note that this does not account for taxes or currency risk.)
Most large Japanese and foreign banks offer some sort of foreign
currency denominated accounts, most often in Euro or US dollars, with
other currencies offered at an increasingly number of establishments.
Citibank, for example, offers simply foreign-currency denominated savings
accounts in over eight currencies, with terms from one week to five years.
Shorter-term maturity savings instruments often have a higher payout.
You can also open a direct deposit-style 'gaika teiki yokin,' which withdraws
a set amount of yen from your bank account every month, converts it into
your desired foreign currency, and holds it in a Japanese account. It's a great
way to build foreign currency savings while living in Japan.

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Frugal Moving with Akabou

It's safe to bet that many foreigners in Japan, especially those without
access to an automobile, have scratched their heads and wondered how to get
Object A from Point B to Point C, especially if Object A is a very heavy piece of
furniture. In the past I have even wrapped up a used television in a large Japanese
furoshiki (wrapping clothing) and carried it in a taxi for several kilometers, but
there has to be a better way!

One excellent resource in this regard is Akabou, masters of the Tiny Red
Truck. Akabou is a network of independently owned small truck operators organized
into local cooperatives, who handle anything from shipping used appliances from
one house to another to small-scale complete moves. They have reasonable rates
(usually clocked by the kilometer, like a taxi), and will also move items from the
house to the truck, and visa versa. With their wide network, you can ship just about
anything within Japan using Akabou, though the best prices are for local area
shipping. Note that the truck bed size is limited (length 1940mm, width 1410mm, and
1400mm, max. payload: 350 kg), so a large move might require several Akabo trucks.

The official Akabou website (http://www.akabou.jp/) is in Japanese only,
but several local Akabou Cooperatives advertise or handle requests in English. These
locales include:
* Yokohama (http://www.porters-express.com/page/english.html ),
* Nagoya (http://www.mb.ccnw.ne.jp/h-akabou/english.htm), and the
* Tokyo Metropolitan area
(http://village.infoweb.ne.jp/~fwkc9604/akaboue.htm ).
If they cannot handle your request, they will probably refer you to
someone who can.
I've used Akabo before, and found it a very reasonable, friendly service
to use.




Written by: Wendy J. Imura (frugalwatch@japaninc.com)

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