FW-69 -- Convenient, Fast & Sometimes Frugal: Grocery Delivery

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, August 30, 2005 Issue No. 69

- What's New (Convenient, Fast & Sometimes Frugal: Grocery Delivery)
- Frugal Friends: (Tama Ryokan: Frugal Accommodations in the Heart of Tokyo)
- Frugal Tips (Frugal English Magazine Source)
- Credits

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Date/Time: Tuesday, September 6th 7:00 pm
Location: City Club of Tokyo - Maple Room
(Canadian Embassy Complex)
Language: English
Website: http://www.ea-tokyo.com
Email: info@ea-tokyo.com

+++ WHAT'S NEW (Convenient, Fast & Sometimes Frugal: Grocery Delivery)

Dear Frugal Readers,

Have you ever wondered why even getting the smallest thing done
seems incredibly complicated in this country sometimes? Buying
food and supplies, and trying to save money at it, can be quite
a chore. Try adding a new baby, an ill family member, or a busy
work schedule to the equation, and you really begin to wonder
how Japanese people manage.

Interestingly enough, Japan has developed a wide variety of
long-established food delivery services to make shopping more
convenient. Many urban grocery stores, especially those struggling
to compete against larger suburban chains, now offer reasonably
priced "takuhai," or delivery services. Any purchases made by a
certain time (usually morning) can be delivered to your
door about 3 - 5 hours later, for a fee, of course. Ask your
supermarket service counter if they offer "takuhai saabisu" and
how much it costs.

A second type of service is the well-known seikyo or home
grocery-delivery service. Local "seikyo" or farmers' cooperatives
(usually one per prefecture or large city) offer home delivery
services in addition to retail stores. The basis for ordering is
a set of catalogs delivered weekly to your home. Using the catalogs,
you fill out a specialized order sheet, and your groceries and
supplies are delivered via a special route truck on a certain day
of the week. Sealed Styrofoam containers (for cold or frozen
items) and cardboard boxes (each recycled and collected weekly)
hold the items outside your doorstep, and you don't have to be
home to receive deliveries. Each week you fill our the form for
your groceries for the next week, making meal planning relatively
easy. While most seikyo used to require group orders, almost all
services deal with individual families now.

The Tokyo metropolitan region PAL System (Tokyo, Kanagawa, and
Saitama, see the following Japanese website for info:
http://www.pal-system.co.jp/) supplies a whopping 640,000 homes,
allows Internet/phone/and fax-based ordering, and offers a wide
range of specialized catalogs and services. Shipping for most
Coop services is free when there is a new baby or elderly person
in the house. Other regions have very similar groups: ask your
neighbors about the "seikyo takuhai" or do an Internet search with
your city/region name and "seikyo takuhai" in Japanese.

Another booming sub-market of home grocery delivery service
is organic food home delivery. Our family uses Radish Boya, a
long-standing nationwide service that contracts with local farmers
to produce organic vegetables, fruits, meat, and even processed
foods. The system (catalogs/order sheets/home delivery) is similar
to Seikyo, except that every week a large box of fresh vegetables
and fruits is sent to your home. The box is filled with what's in
season and what's available, meaning that you could end up with
three consecutive weeks of gobo (burdock root), or a large
watermelon one week and two cantaloupes the next. The service also
ships relatively rare but traditional vegetables difficult to find in
supermarkets. You can order additional weekly and/or one-off products
as well. Check out http://www.radishbo-ya.co.jp/ for more information,
or here (http://www.zmag.org/Japan/Politics/Radish1.html) for a
detailed English description. Other organic food delivery services are
popping up all over: it might be worth it to compare prices. (Organic
vegetables are "yuuki yasai" in Japanese.)

Finally, a new subset of the market that caters to the truly busy or
those on special diets is worth mentioning: "menu-specific" meal
shipping services. Essentially, these services send you both the
ingredients and recipes as a packaged set of menus for each week,
eliminating the question "what's for dinner?" and shopping. While
I've never tried these services myself, they do seem convenient,
and certainly less expensive than eating out. Some recommended sites
include: Benesse EF (http://www.benesse-ef.jp/), Watashi no Kondate
(http://www.shokubun.co.jp/), and Yoshikei
(http://www.yoshikei-dvlp.co.jp/). Note that you can, of course,
cancel for days or weeks you don't like the menu or won't be at
home to cook.

So, finally, the real question is: are these services frugal? There
is no question that a dedicated comparison shopper with lots of time
to visit many stores would find cheaper per-unit prices on many of
the items sold through these services. Plus, shipping can get
expensive if you live too far off route for one of the weekly truck
deliveries. That said, I've found that using our service actually
lowered our grocery bill for three reasons:
1) we don't go shopping as much (maybe once a week to get meat or fish),
thus cutting down drastically on unneeded or impulse buys,
2) groceries become more of a fixed cost (you are typically billed for
your monthly purchases at the end of the month through direct
withdrawal from your bank account), and
3) "inventory control" becomes easier (you order based on a catalog,
allowing you to check your 'stock' of groceries as you go).

Whatever grocery delivery service type you choose, realize that the
catalogs you receive will be in Japanese, and most customer service too.
While extensive pictures are used, it can take a month or two to get
used to how the service works. That said, a number of friends I know
with limited Japanese manage to use the services quite successfully.
If your spoken Japanese is better than your reading, ask for a sales
person to visit your home to explain things to you - many will do
just that. Happy Ordering!

Frugally yours,
Wendy J. Imura

PS: Note that many services (including mine) have dropped their
joining and membership renewal fees altogether (used to be 5,000 yen),
and that many have "trial membership" campaigns for a month or so.
Radish Boya, and some Seikyo, will also send you a free pack of
vegetables or basic products so you can try out the merchandise.

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+++ FRUGAL FRIENDS (Tama Ryokan: Frugal Accommodations in Downtown Tokyo)

Welcome to a new section on Frugal Watch: Frugal Friends!
In this corner, we introduce foreign-owned or foreigner-friendly
businesses and services around Japan. If you know of a Frugal
Friend-worthy business, or would like to introduce your own business
to our 1,000+ readers, email Wendy J. Imura (frugalwatch@japaninc.com)!

**** Tama Ryokan (www.tamaryokan.com) ***********

Finding inexpensive, and convenient, accommodations in Tokyo can be
quite a hassle. What's more, at a certain point many travelers
become weary of the whole backpacker hotel/youth hostel scene. Well,
if you're looking for a frugal yet very centrally located
accommodations in a traditional, family environment, why not try
Tama Ryokan?

Run by longtime foreign resident Michael Turner, the "Tama Ryokan
provides basic accommodations for a reasonable price in a central
Tokyo location." Located three minutes on foot from the Yamanote
Line Takadanobaba Station, and literally seconds from the Tozai
Subway Line station of the same name - you really can't get much
closer to the action than this.

The neighborhood is also a great draw: "offer a splendid
variety of cuisine: Indian, Thai, Italian, French, Cambodian,
Nepali, Burmese, and others, with some very reasonable
lunch-special prices."

"Other neighborhood attractions include a movie theater (not
too common in Tokyo), an English-language bookstore (the
Blue Parrot), and several hangouts popular with the gaijin crowd,
most notably The Fiddler, a British-style pub with live music
and no cover charge most nights of the week, and Ben's Cafe,
a New York-style cafe and bistro, with free internet access."

The ryokan itself has four Japanese-style rooms, with rates
starting at 4,500 yen for one person. Payment should be made
in cash, and reservations are a necessity, as the ryokan is
often booked up. A refrigerator and 24-hour customer lounge
(with one desktop PC for Internet surfing and email) are

For very thorough information about the ryokan (and pictures),
please visit: www.tamaryokan.com.

For both a frugal night's stay and a chance to view a unique,
old-style Japanese ryokan in a convenient Tokyo neighborhood,
the Tama Ryokan is definitely worth a visit.

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+++ FRUGAL TIPS (Frugal English Magazine Source)
Live near Kobe, or plan to visit soon? Did you know that
the Foreign Buyer's Club sells its old magazines (at least
two months old) at its retail location on Rokko Island for
only 100 yen? One Frugal Japan reader reports: "Last time
I was there I got a bunch of women's magazines, a 'Seventeen'
for my daughter and a kid's science magazine for my son. All
for 100 yen each. Who cares if they're a few months old?
Recipes and housekeeping tips don't get old! They also had a
lot of kids' creative writing magazines, like Spider and
Cricket. Maybe those who teach English could somehow use
them with their students." (Thanks to Kobe Cathy!)

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

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