* * * * * * * * 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, May 16, 2004 Issue No. 008


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

======================= MAY DAY/M'AIDEZ ==================================

The MAY issue of JI magazine boasts FREE online access!**

Check it out NOW:


(**For a limited time; thereafter all archived contents will be

>> INVENTOR VENGEANCE: Leo Lewis visits wacky Dr. NaKaMats -- and
shows us the inside story of this year's inventor litigation craze.
Japan's star innovators are suddenly ... making money!

>> BIZARRE BAZAAR: NPR's Lucille Craft shows us how Japan's used-car
auctioneers just might outglamor IT and tech -- and why Yokohama has
become the new home base for selling Japan's junks.

>> PAPER SKY FLIES HIGH: Two American brothers are selling Japan to
the rest of the world.

PLUS: Join us at Anime Fair '04; Find out what McCann Erickson is doing
in Japan; Hop north to Hokkaido's forgotten wealth; Learn how to invest
in the freshly fecund Japan -- and have a whisky on us in Kansai.
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Dear Frugal Readers,

Welcome back to another week of Frugal Watch. This week, I'd like to focus
on a few strategies for a very basic task in our lives -- grocery shopping.

No matter what kind of lifestyle you live in Japan, from the most luxurious
expat apartment complex to a rustic house in deepest rural Japan, everyone
(at least once or twice) manages to visit a grocery store here. Of course,
the first few visits are fairly confusing. At first, most of our efforts
are spent at basic survival -- locating fish without the heads attached,
properly identifying real peanut butter instead of miso flavoring, and
figuring out which breads do not have bean paste, butter, or other
nasty fillings.

Once you've gotten past the initial supermarket shock, you begin to realize
how very expensive food shopping is here. How can any one save money in
a country which doesn't recognize clipped coupons and where you can't read
the labels? Well, here are a few tips.

*Comparison shop:

Japanese supermarkets (with the exception of Seiyu, which has introduced
WalMart's Everyday Low Price scheme) have daily or weekly "loss-leader"
specials. If you consistently visit the same markets, you can
learn what items are often on sale during which days. In my case, our local
Ito Yokado has 40 percent off on all frozen foods on Tuesdays. Conversely,
some stores consistently have lower prices on staple foods. Our local drug
store sells brand-name sliced bread (shoku pan) for Y100 every day, though
in limited quantities. The Y30 savings sounds very minor, but after two
years of shopping with this strategy, we have lowered our average weekly
grocery bill from around Y8000 to Y5500 (for two people).

*Buy fresh foods in season:

Japan currently supplies only 40 percent of its food needs through local
production. The rest is imported. Obviously, buying fresh strawberries
in the dead of winter, or winter mushrooms in summer, will be more
expensive than purchasing seasonal vegetables and fruits. Fresher foods
are also safer. Most Japanese supermarket prominently display seasonal
foods, as do local greengrocers (yaoya-san). A Japanese cookbook in
English can help you learn how to cook some of the unfamiliar foods.

*Compare prices not based on label prices, but on prices per gram:

It's hard to tell from the price alone what meats or foods are the best
deal, especially with misleading packaging. A close look at the food
price labels in most supermarkets will reveal a price per gram, or you
can simply do the calculations yourself. This helps you determine, for
example, that the Y250 package of meat (A) is actually less of a
bargain than the Y450 package (B), as (A) is Y45/gram while (B)
is Y32. If you are single and worry about being able to finish a
large package of meat in one meal, don't despair. Pick up some of
the free plastic baggies from the roll at check out counters.
When you get home, split up your large packages of meat into
several smaller baggies. You can spread the package out over
several meals.

I've got many more tips where these come from, but for the time
being, I hope these help you in your daily shopping!

Happy savings, everyone!
Wendy J. Imura

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-> The May issue of Mary Hunt's Cheapskate Monthly notes that
"Nearly 60 percent of Americans have not taken time to calculate retirement
savings needs," as reported by the 2004 Retirement Confidence Survey.
"While the majority claim they could save $20 more per week for retirement,
many of them have not even taken the time to find out how much they really
need to save." With Japan's flagging pension system a current topic in the
news, more and more Japanese people are waking up to the fact that they
need to start taking responsibility for their own retirement. The Principal
Financial Well-Being Survey notes that only 12 percent of Japanese workers
believe their standard of living will improve when they retire, while
only 3 percent have confidence in the government's ability to provide
pension or health benefits equal to the ones they currently receive.

(Reference: http://www.principal.com/about/news/global091702.htm)

========= Humans Evolve, So Does the Securitization Market ===============
Keep Abreast of Developments in the Japanese Real Estate Market

The publisher of the Real-Estate Securitization Handbook 2003,
TP Publishing, has just released J-RED. This English language monthly on
the real estate sector in Japan is produced from a selection of translated
articles appearing in Property Management and Leisure Industry Data, both
industry leading publications from Sogo Unicom with a combined Japanese
readership of 43,000. Articles for J-RED are selected and edited in
consultation with current participants in the Japanese real-estate market,
focusing on the most relevant articles for foreign investors.

Order your subscription or request a free sample copy at


How Much Will it Save You? An Annual Cost Comparison
of Some Common Frugal Tips

While some frugal tips don't seem that they save much money at the
time, they do add up over awhile. Lettuce magazine (a Japanese magazine
aimed at younger housewives) had 8 pages of tips in their annual cost
comparison to help make the impact of living frugally a bit more visible.
In keeping with this week's "frugal food" theme, have a loook at some of
the more interesting and useful tips and calculations:

TIP 1) Take a boxed lunch (obento) to work 3x a week
Cost savings: Y62,400/year - three lunches at Y500 a week adds up
over the year.

TIP 2) Switch from regular beer to low-malt beer (haposhu) for your
nightly tipple.
Cost savings: Y31,200/year. The difference in price between the two
really adds up.
(An even better idea - give up the nightly beer, and drink tea
instead. We brew big pots of mugicha for summer and winter --
no fat and very cheap!)

TIP 3) After finishing your shopping, make one more trip around the
store and put back something you might not need.
Cost savings: Y15,600/year (based on Y100 item put back 3x a week).
This is actually a great way to eliminate impulse purchases
regardless of where you are shopping.

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

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