Living on the cheap in Tokyo

How to live cheaply in one of the world’s most expensive cities? Well, it really isn’t that expensive unless you want it to be, and I will submit that living a broke life in Tokyo is MUCH better than living a broke life anywhere in America.

Here are some ideas:


This is the big kahuna that makes life in Tokyo expensive. If you want a swank apartment in the middle of the city, it might set you back ¥400,000 a month. Fortunately, there are cheaper ways to do things.

  • Best way: seduce someone of your preferred gender who has a nice apartment. If they’re female, they’ll even make you breakfast in the morning! (And if they don’t, find one who will; Japan is a buyer’s market.)
  • Stay with a host family. You get conversation, you probably get meals, and you might even get your laundry done. On the other hand, host families have their drawbacks; you can’t go out partying late at night, and they might turn out to be batshit crazy. (I never had the former problem in high school; I definitely had the latter problem.)
  • Get a place in the middle of nowhere, like a ¥40,000 room in Nishi-nippori located a cool 20-minute bus ride from the Yamanote Line.
  • If you insist on living in the middle of the city, you can ditch your bathroom and live in a 6-mat room 5 minutes away from Shibuya for the same price. Granted, you have to go to a sento to clean yourself up, and your toilet is shared… but still!
  • By the way, Yahoo! Japan Real Estate is an excellent resource for scouting out really cheap places to stay, assuming you know enough Japanese to navigate around. If English is your only language (or if you aren’t staying for a year or so), you might be relegated to the hell that is Sakura House.


  • There are always noodle products, of course, and those sketchy pasta sauces they sell in foil pouches at Don Quijote. Yum!
  • If you want slightly better food, you can live on a diet of convenience store bentos, gyudon and curry for under ¥2,000 a day. Pretty easy, if not all that healthy.
  • If you’re into eating out, my advice would be to get used to having big lunches. Many of the smaller restaurants around the business districts of Tokyo will sell you a massive lunch prepared with good ingredients for ¥1,000 or less. Then you can make your other calories for the day more or less blank.
  • One of the best money-savers out there—as much as it might pain some of you to consider it—is to avoid booze. “What you say! No drinking in Japan? Heresy!” But it’s true: consider that a beer or chuhai will cost you ¥300 even at a cheap place.


This one is easy. Ditch the subway and get yourself a bicycle. You might still want to hop on the Metro when it’s raining, but biking around is a great way to see the city, burn some calories and save some money. (I was spending ¥5,000 a month on Metro cards before I got my bike; at ¥10,000 it paid for itself after two nice winter/spring months, although it got pretty unbearable during the summer. If you have a cheap sento near your workplace, go for it! If you work at a sento, double points!)

Adam “Swamp Donkey” Richards, up-and-coming heavyweight

‘Swamp Donkey’ Richards’ boxing career rising with help from Holyfield

swamp-donkey.jpgBoxing has had a pair of Sugar Rays, an Iron Mike and a Raging Bull, among others.

Now there’s Swamp Donkey. That’s right — Swamp Donkey.

No, Adam Richards is not from Louisiana or Florida or anyplace else generally associated with swamps. The 26-year-old Riverdale High School graduate and former MTSU student does pack a mule-like wallop, though, which makes him an attraction in the world of professional boxing. An original nickname, even if it is a bit unusual, does not hurt either.

“More people (in boxing circles) know me by ‘Swamp’ or ‘Swamp Donkey’ than my own name,” he said. “It’s really taken off. It’s catchy. If you look up on the Internet, I get a little grief. There’s a lot of people who make fun of it and a lot of people who like it. You’re going to have either way.”

For the better part of the last three years, though, Richards’ career has been headed in one direction — up.

Earlier this month he moved into the top 100 heavyweights in the world, according to at least one ranking source. For the past two years he has worked with one of the sport’s leading trainers, Ronnie Shields, in the same Houston camp as former world champion Evander Holyfield.

What this article doesn’t tell you is that he took the name “Swamp Donkey” because his boxing buddies kept getting him confused with a certain blogger…

(I’ve noted Swamp before)

Online advertising in Japan, status report

For some reason ads have popped up into Japan’s news agenda lately (Second Life is coming to Japan, local newspapers got in trouble in their flailing attempts to use government contracts to make up for lost ad revenue) and on the Western side as well (Google is offering a new pricing structure for its ads). So as an armchair observer I want to bring up (and translate) some interesting articles I’ve seen on the subject that take a closer look.

Last month, Dentsu announced that Internet ad spending surged in 2006. It beat out radio spending in 2004 and is poised to overtake spending on magazine ads in 2007. The numbers came out with great fanfare, but not much context. Thankfully, Shukan Toyo Keizai has stepped up to fill in the details with a free online article on the subject (translated in full below):

At the Front Lines in the “Hard Fight” of Internet Advertising
March 16, 2007

In 2006, Japan’s Internet ad spending jumped 30% from the year before to 363 billion yen. Yet, we don’t hear Internet companies heralding that “Internet ads are booming.” What’s going on in the field?

“Companies have been leaving ad budgets unspent these past 4 quarters. They have money leftover but aren’t using it. We’ve been hoping that they’ll finally use it each quarter, but that time has yet to come” (Masahiro Inoue, President of Yahoo! Japan). “The Internet ad market overall is stagnating, with industry-wide price-drops in advertising having an effect on regular ads including banner, text, and search-sensitive ads” (Tetsuya Ebata, President of AllAbout Japan).

net-ads-140_2.jpgIn Februray, Dentsu announced in its “Advertising Spending in Japan, 2006” (PDF in Japanese)that as ad spending for the 4 mass media of TV, newspapers, magazines, and radio slumped, Internet ads jump 30% on a year-on-year basis to 363 billion yen. Net ads already surpassed radio in 2004, and it seems certain that they will beat out magazines in 2007.

Despite this, most top executives at Internet companies complained of a “sense of stagnation in Internet ads” in earnings announcements for the Oct-Dec 2006 quarter.

Internet businesses get their main source of revenue from advertising. Slow growth in that market could lead to slower growth for Internet companies as well.

Some Smaller Companies Reporting Negative Growth

So what’s going on here? Take Yahoo! Japan, for example. It ad revenue grew 40% in 2006 to 84.7 billion yen. Looking at this figure alone makes things look like an ideal situation. But one’s impression changes drastically when looking at per-quarter numbers. Though Yahoo’s ad revenue grew 13% from 18 billion yen in Oct-Dec 2005 to 20.5 billion yen in the same quarter in 2006, growth clearly slowed in the following quarters: 21.2 billion, 21.2 billion, 21.7 billion.

Examples of negative growth are far from rare. Excite Japan, a mid-market portal site, has continued to see its ad revenue shrink since the Apr-Jun 2006 quarter. AllAbout, a company offering specialized guides and articles from experts in their respective fields, has been unable to exceed its peak in the Oct-Dec 2005 quarter. Ad revenue for Cyber Agent’s media operations saw their growth come to a halt in 2006.

The cause of this slowdown in Net ads, as everyone in the industry points out, is the drop in ad placements from major consumer credit firms. These companies were a major advertiser in all Internet media from banner ads to search-sensitive ads. But they took a turn for the worse business-wise when scandals led to a rise in maximum interest rates. The companies’ major scaling back of ad budgets has taken its toll.

“The exodus of consumer finance has collapsed ad demand” (Osamu Ishikawa, Finance and Accounting Director, Excite Japan); “Revenues from consumer finance companies have been dropping each quarter since the first. Revenues from many other industries are growing, but they have not made up for the drop” (Akira Kashigawa, CFO at Yahoo! Japan)

Over the past few years, year-on-year growth rates of 50 or 60 percent were taken for granted, and quite a few companies had boosted hiring and investment based on this surge, moves that are at the root of the doom and gloom attitudes that have prevailed from mid-2006.

But if you think that the industry will return to its former health after riding out the shock of consumer finance, think again. That’s because a huge structural change is underway in the Internet ad market.

A Growing Oligopoly: A Battle for the Top Spot between the 2 Big Search Engines

Recently, you have probably noticed quite a few TV, newspaper, and outdoor ads that feature search boxes.

Cross-media marketing, a practice that combines existing advertising techniques and search engines, is experiencing a surge in popularity. “Dentsu and Hakuhodo, who want to sell existing ad space (which is more profitable than Internet ads), are pitching this method as a way to meet the needs of companies that want to take advantage of the Internet,” explains a source connected to the industry. Companies both large and small have been getting into the cross-media game.

Search-sensitive ads refer to ads that are displayed above or to the right of results when a user searches on Yahoo! or Google. They are very effective since the ads displayed are tailored to the users’ interests and ad fees are only paid when the ads are actually clicked on, giving them a high level of cost effectiveness. Users and advertisers have both accepted the ads and they have exploded recently.

The above-mentioned Dentsu survey shows that search-sensitive ads grew 57% in 2006 to 93 billion yen, making up 25% of all net ads. However, asd President Akira Shinta of Aun Consulting notes, “30% of the American market is search-sensitive ads. Their share is going to grow in Japan as well.”

Japan’s net ad market is currently dominated by one player, Yahoo! Japan, which has 25% of the market. But the more search-sensitive ads grow, the more Google is sure to make its presence felt.

Unlike in the US, where Google reigns supreme in search engine market share, Yahoo has held onto the top spot in Japan. Even still, Shinta argues that “Google is gradually becoming a threat.” While Yahoo Japan relies on Yahoo! USA subsidiary Overture for its search ad system, Google has its own. If search-sensitive ad revenue were set at 100, Yahoo’s takehome would be 55, while Google takes home 85-100. Moreover, Google, which has teamed up with KDDI, is in a better position in the mobile search market than Yahoo is in its partnership with Softbank.

What’s happening right now is a fight for the top spot in the Japanese market between Yahoo and Google. It’s gone from a market dominated by a single company to one dominated by 2 companies, and as a result an oligopoly has taken shape. Unless they can sell their uniqueness, the “3rd place and under” Internet companies may get weeded out as they suffer a structural lull.

(by Masao Yamada)

UPDATE: Excite Japan’s Web Ad Times has a good graph depicting the slowdown. You shouldn’t even need to read Japanese to see that growth is way down.

Welcome back part 2

OK, after the false re-start a couple of days ago I have finally re-wiped everything and reinstalled from scratch, and finally figured out the correct way to import the old database with ALL Asian language text intact. We had some good discussion going on the “welcome back” thread over the past few days, so as I promised I’ll just post the archive of that below, so everyone can re-read their own comments for fun long into the future.

Continue reading Welcome back part 2