FW-45 -- Health Club Memberships: Are they Frugal?

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:

* ** * * * * 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, February 22, 2005 Issue No. 45

- What's new (Health Club Memberships: Are they Frugal?)
- Bargain Roundup: Home Exercise Equipment
- Frugal tips (How I Stayed Trim in Japan - Without a Health Club)
- Credits
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Dear Frugal Readers,

With hints of spring filtering through the late February
winter clouds, some people might be looking at themselves
in the mirror with a little more scrutiny than usual. As
spring and summer approach, the season for shorts,
sleeveless shirts, and bathing suits also nears, and many
decide that now is as good a time as any to get trim.
Health clubs or sports gyms, of course, know this, and do
a roaring business in new memberships in early spring.

Joining a health club in Japan can be an expensive
proposition. If you are lucky enough to live near one,
you will find that in many cases, the facilities are quite
nice. What they lack in space, they make up for in a
usually wide array of classes, equipment, and the obligatory
onsen/sauna. Most of the Japanese owned chain clubs (such
as Tipness) offer a variety of membership packages: full
memberships (usually upwards of 12,000 yen a month),
student memberships, evening memberships (good from
8PM-10PM only for 6,000 yen/month), and others. Don't
forget about the membership fee, though this can be waived
in some cases (check out Japanese newspaper inserts -
sometimes they advertise special deals).

As with any sort of investment in our health or education,
joining a health club is, first and foremost, all about
good intentions. If you INTEND on visiting the club three
times a week, then the 12,000 yen/month fee at 12 times
a month breaks down to 1,000 yen/visit - certainly cheaper
than a day pass (usually around 2,000 yen). But it's
amazing how quickly good intentions fall victim to the
realities of a busy life. My first year living in Tokyo, I
joined a nice, central gym downtown for 12,000 yen/month.
While I went about twice a week the first month, my busy
work schedule got the better of me, and I only went four
times in the next five months. If you do the math,
you realize that this breaks down to about 15,000 yen
PER VISIT! I cancelled my membership not long
after - chagrinned a but a lot wiser.

The moral of this story: consider very carefully if the
monthly costs of your gym membership will balance out
over the long run. If you're only likely to visit once a
week, then (in most cases) purchasing a simple day pass is
likely to be cheaper. Also consider your motivation:
will paying for the privilege of exercising (which you
could do for free anyhow) actually motivate you to
exercise more? Or will guilt over your lack of gym
attendance push you further into coach potato-hood?
As my personality tends towards the latter, I found
I actually had better results exercising when I DIDN'T
have a gym membership. What did I do?

Well, the most frugal way to exercise more in Japan
WITHOUT a gym is an old Japanese favorite: walk more.
In my case, I switched my commuting route so that I
exited the subway at a station one stop farther away
from my office than before. This added an extra 1 km
on foot (round trip) to my commute each day, but after
six months, I was five kilograms lighter. During rainy
or extremely hot weather, I always had the option of
riding the extra stop, but on nice days, the walk
was great. I also began avoiding the escalators and
elevators in stations, departments stores, and buildings.
Climbing stairs builds muscle and burns calories. Finally,
I bought a plastic pair of dumbbells from the 100 yen store
(the kind that you can fill with water or sand), and did
some very light weightlifting while watching television
at night. Cheap, frugal, and very simple.

Of course, there are many other non-health club options
too - using public sports facilities (such as pools or
gymnasiums), joining an amateur sports team, taking up
jogging, or doing exercise videos. And, if used wisely,
health clubs DO provide a great place to get fit and
meet people. Just be careful that you really are
getting your money's worth based on how much you actually
use your membership.

Frugally yours,
Wendy J. Imura
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+++ BARGAIN ROUNDUP: Getting Fit in Tokyo
In keeping with today's theme, I thought I'd identify a few
fitness bargains in the greater Tokyo Area. Read on!

*Indoor Rock Climbing Gyms in Tokyo - Free!
There are a surprising number of free indoor rock climbing
gyms available in Tokyo, such as the Katsushika-ku Sogo
Sports Center (Outdoors) and Nippin Main Branch in
Chiyoda-ku, where outdoor climbing is free. Some
facilities require advance registration or a fee-based
safety course, but in general public gyms or universities
offer a very low-cost way to climb.
See http://www.outdoorjapan.com/rockclimbing/activity-rc-tokyo.html
for more information.

*Yoga - 30,000 yen for a 15-class ticket pack
Yoga is booming in Japan, and new yoga studios seem
to be popping up all over the place in Tokyo. After
several hours spent online searching, the variety of
price plans had my eyes popping, but The International
Yoga Center's 15-class ticket for 30,000 yen seemed
to provide the best deal in terms of classes for your
money. English language instruction seems to come at a
premium, so if you speak Japanese, check out your
local city or town hall classes - usually those can be
taken for a fraction of the cost. For more
information, see:

*Ultimate Frisbee - Free!
Are you an ultimate Frisbee fanatic? Has it been a
decade since you've held a flying disk? Well, the
Tokyo Ultimate Frisbee Group appears like a good way
to get back in the game. The group advertises that
they're "very casual, no member fees, no responsibility,
just show up on Sunday and have a good time." They play
by the Tokyo side of the Tamagawa river. Visit
here (http://www.outdoorjapan.com/ultimate/main.html)
to join their mailing list or to get more information.

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+++ FRUGAL TIPS (Super Frugal Success Story!)
One super-frugal Frugal Japan member came to Japan
with a big goal: save enough money for a down payment
on a house. Well, she succeeded. Here's how:

"Goals I set when I first came to Japan: Save money
and travel.

Reflecting on my time in Japan, here are some of the
things that I did to meet my goals. They are not drastic
measures by any means, but reflect a simpler lifestyle.

*Only bought what we needed for our apartment
[This is an understatement: she has three plates,
three knives, three spoons, three forks. That's all
in the way of dishware! You get the idea!]

*Bought groceries once per week and cooked most meals.

*Shopped at the local grocery store; only went to
the foreign supermarkets once in awhile if I was
really craving something or to pick up hard to find

*Went out for a nice dinner once per week

*Bought wine at the discount liquor shop (usually
about 25-40% less). Note, we like to drink wine so
this could be considered a "splurge" by some and be
an area in which one could easily cut costs.

*Didn't go for drinks that often (maybe only once per
month). Instead we would buy a nice bottle of wine
and enjoy it at home.

*Took advantage of foreign book sales at Maruzen
and Kinokuniya in January and June when paperbacks
were reduced to about 400 yen each.

*Didn't buy foreign magazines.

*Didn't upgrade our mobile phones when new
models came out.

*Rented videos (maybe went to movies once every
three months and when we did go we would usually
go to the late show where the price was reduced to
1,200 yen per ticket)

*Used a credit card that includes travel insurance so
we didn't have to purchase travel insurance every
time we travelled

*Choose quality over quantity when buying clothes,
shoes, jewellery, etc; shopping in January and June
sales was always fun!

*Instead of joining a gym I worked out at home. I
bought a stepper and a skipping rope for cardio and
used a ball for stretching/strengthening, and
filled up 2L pet bottles to use as light weights.

*Wanted to grow my hair out, so I didn't visit the
hairdresser very often (I don't color my hair, but
I did have two straight perms.)
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Written by: Wendy J. Imura (frugalwatch@japaninc.com)
Edited by: JI

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