Why “PB” store brand products are cheap and getting cheaper

Over the past few years, supermarkets like Aeon and Ito-Yokado (and convenience stores like 7-11) have placed ever greater numbers of “private-branded” products on their shelves. Americans will be more familiar with the term “store brand” as symbolized by the suspiciously labeled cereals often with off-putting imitations of the Trix rabbit. In Japan they are simply known as “PB” (ピービー or プライベートブランド another example of marketing lingo making its way into everyday Japanese). According to Wikipedia, reforms of the supply chain behind private brands (moving production from smaller manufacturers to more sophisticated larger firms) in the middle of this decade has led to a “boom” of higher quality private-branded items starting around 2006. In this recession, the PB goods are reportedly boosting their market shares as Japanese people give up on traditional brands.

 02_px250A light-hearted economic piece from Tokyo Walker c/o Yahoo News Japan notes that some PB products, specifically those from Aeon’s “Best Price by Top Value” (what a mouthful!), are getting even cheaper than before. For example, they have started to offer “tissue refills” aka tissues without any cardboard boxes or extra packaging.  Other no-frills products include laundry detergent with no plastic spoon and instant ramen with the powder already mixed in instead of coming in separate plastic pouches.

In Japan, the private-branded stuff tends to be of shockingly high quality to the point that there is little reason to pay extra for the fancy packaging of brand names. I haven’t lived in the US for about three years now, but I grew up calling store-brand food the “third world” version (the poor families drank “third world soda” and so on). However, that may be changing – A blog post at FT.com seems to show that the US is moving closer to the Japanese model, or at least Japan-owned 7-Eleven hopes so: 

Interestingly, Jeff Schenck, the head of franchising for 7-Eleven in the US says [consumption of store brand goods] is more driven by distribution patterns. Big consumer goods companies such as Procter and Gamble have a greater influence over supermarket supply chains in the US than in Europe.

They are often allowed to stock the shelves in supermarkets, in return for incentive payments (known as slotting fees) to retailers, and to control the way products are displayed.

Mr Schenk said 7-Eleven’s steady development of its own supply chain was one reason why it was now confident in the potential of 7-Select products, such as its own line of potato crisps. “We call it taking our stores back,” he said.

As well as rolling out more private label goods, 7-Eleven is developing a new franchising model, which involves persuading owners of existng corner stores to convert to the brand in return for giving 7-11 a share of the revenues.

This is a less capital intensive model than its traditional practice of acquiring leases or building stores itself, before getting local franchisees to run them.

(Photo courtesy Nikkei BP)

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Check the Adamukun blog for Adamu’s shared articles and recommended links.

Shocker: Japanese people prefer “Japanese food”

The Nielsen research company has conducted a global survey on dining out preferences (Japanese PDF). The Nikkei presents the results from Japan. When asked what type of food they prefer when dining out, Japanese respondents said:

  1. Japanese (48%)
  2. Italian (20%)
  3. Chinese (12%)
  4. French (7%)

Globally, Japanese food was the fifth most preferred food. Surprisingly, the 46% of Japanese people who eat out more than three times per week is only marginally above the 44% global average.

Japanese people have a comparatively high level of what I would term “gastronomic nationalism” – that is, their preference for their own food far exceeds the global rate of 27%.

Anyone who has spent any time in this country will not be surprised to see Japanese food topping the results. Inside Japan, Japanese food is simply everywhere. The children are raised on government-supplied lunches and mother’s obento box lunches, on TV there is an endless parade of B-list celebrities fawning over the latest restaurant, and on the street the vast majority of eateries are nominally Japanese. On top of that, Japanese food is objectively scrumptious and awesome, a fact not lost on people.

But what exactly is Japanese food? The survey was apparently taken based on the respondents’ own definitions of what “Japanese food” means, but this is not always so clear-cut. Under such conditions, food that might otherwise be considered foreign must have been included under the “Japanese” rubric. “Japanese food” spans a very wide variety – from obviously Japanese foods like sushi, pickled radishes, and soba buckwheat noodles to more complicated foods that blur the lines between “pure” Japanese food and fusion dishes that have developed over the years. Other foods that may have foreign origins might not be perceived as foreign by some of the consumers (yakiniku aka Korean barbecue comes to mind as I have heard some tell me it is Japanese).

For example, it’s hard to tell whether ramen would be considered Chinese or Japanese (though the recipe is distinctly Japanese, many ramen shops advertise themselves as chuuka (Chinese) and also sell gyoza, which are more or less Japanized versions of Chinese dumplings), or for that matter whether Japanese-style curry can be called Indian (it was apparently adapted from Britain, which itself adapted it from the Indian dish). And then there is the plethora of dishes that are considered youshoku (Western/occidental food) in Japan but would be hard to find on a table anywhere in the actual West. These include omuraisu (ketchup rice wrapped in an omelette) and hambaagu (a bunless hamburger often seasoned and stuffed with onions, served with a variety of toppings such as grated daikon radish (oroshi) and ponzu, a kind of  citrus/soy/vinegar sauce).

Conversely, much so-called Italian food has been considerably Japanized as well (think mentaiko spaghetti), but I doubt many respondents who go into their local Capricciosa to order noodles drowned in spicy fish eggs and mayonnaise would consider themselves to be eating at a “Japanese food” establishment. Confusing things further, many “retro Showa era” restaurants serve a “Neapolitan” spaghetti-and-ketchup dishes, but in a very Japanese izakaya atmosphere. And then there are the “rice burgers” served at Mos Burger, the new  soy sauce-enhanced fried chicken at KFC, and Okinawa-style taco rice (this unlike the other two would be likely termed “Japanese”). I could go on, but it’s getting close to dinner time.

So all that said, the data could be kind of biased in Japan’s case (and the same probably goes for other countries) since Japan has co-opted so much of the Western menu into its own native cuisine. As far as I am concerned, the world is all the richer for it.

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Check the Adamukun blog for Adamu’s shared articles and recommended links.

Vicarious Hanami

For those of you unable to enjoy hanami cherry blossom viewing today, you can live vicariously and see people enjoying the hanami at Shinjuku Gyouen in Tokyo on Google Maps. (I’ll be there later today!)

vicarious-hanami

SEE LARGER MAP

(Google maps’s totally lame iframe tags can’t be embedded here, so the above is a jpg; click the link to interract with the map.)

Women flee Japan, as the men evolve into a different species

Of course, the female population could simply be falling more or less in line with the overall population, but let’s not let that get in the way of an anonymous ministry official’s speculation (thank you Kyodo and Nikkei):

Population Of Women In Japan Sees 1st Decline On Record
TOKYO (Kyodo)–The number of females in Japan fell for the first time on record as of October last year, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said Monday.

The female population was estimated to be 65.44 million as of Oct. 1, down 20,000 from a year earlier to mark the first decrease since 1950, when comparable data were first recorded.

”More Japanese women are going abroad for extended periods, and this is thought to be one of the reasons,” a ministry official said.

This might be a good time to tell you that I very much enjoyed attending Patrick Macias’ lecture on otaku culture held a couple weeks ago at Temple University Japan. You can listen to it in full on his website. The lecture is a broad overview of the development of Japan’s otaku culture and the American obsession with it. Within, he notes:

  • Densha Otoko, the dubiously true story of an 2-Channeler otaku who falls in love with a normal woman, follows the storyline of an “interracial romance,” and
  • The ubiquity of erotic elements in anime and gaming indicate that otaku are leaving normal female companionship behind, in a phenomenon he compares to the “post-humans” of sci-fi anime such as the Gundam series.

It’s an interesting listen!

Congressional Research Service on Japanese political turmoil, circa September 2008

I have been very excited to discover the website Open CRS, an unofficial repository of Congressional Research Service reports. Normally, the reports are only available to Congress members and their aides, but a surprising number of them do see the light of day. This site could serve as a helpful source until Joe Lieberman’s initiative to open up the CRS becomes law.

For a taste of what the CRS has to offer, here is a report (PDF) on the state of Japanese politics around the time when former PM Fukuda stepped down:

Factors Behind Japan’s Political Paralysis


A number of factors impeded Fukuda’s ability to govern and will challenge
whomever the LDP chooses as his successor.
Parliamentary Gridlock. In July 2007, the DPJ won a majority in nationwide
elections for the Upper House of the Diet. As a result, for the first time in Japanese
history, Japan’s two parliamentary chambers are controlled by different parties. Shortly
after the DPJ’s victory, then-prime minister Shinzo Abe resigned, leading the LDP to
select Fukuda as premier. Concerned by Ozawa’s threats to veto major legislation,
Fukuda attempted to form a “Grand Coalition” with the DPJ. After the talks broke down,
the DPJ adopted an aggressive policy of using its control of the Upper House to block or
delay several of the Fukuda government’s legislative initiatives.
The LDP’s Increased Dependence on Coalition Partners. For more than
a decade, the LDP generally has not been able to secure independent majorities in both
Diet chambers, forcing it to rely upon coalitions with smaller parties. Since 1999, the
LDP has formed a governing coalition with the New Komeito party, a pacifist-leaning
party with strong ties to the Buddhist Soka Gakkai religious group. Komeito’s clout in
the coalition has increased over time, for at least two reasons. First, the LDP is reliant
upon Komeito to obtain the 2/3 majority in the Lower House to override the DPJ-led
vetoes in the Upper House. Second, LDP candidates in many electoral districts have
become reliant upon support from Soka Gakkai followers.4 Although traditionally the
LDP has dominated the coalition, during the summer of 2008, New Komeito became
more assertive, for instance by resisting Fukuda’s push to renew the authorization to
provide fuel to coalition forces in Afghanistan (see later section for details).
The LDP’s Weakened Decision-Making Structure. Former Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi significantly weakened the LDP’s old, opaque system, in which the
leaders of the party’s internal factions made major budgetary, policy, and personnel
decisions (including deciding who would serve as prime minister). This system, although
widely criticized as lacking transparency, helped the LDP to overcome significant internal
divisions over policy. While he was breaking the faction-based system, Koizumi used his
personal popularity and aggressiveness to enforce party discipline. However, his
successors, Abe and Fukuda, often were unable to duplicate this feat. As a result,
decision-making became increasingly difficult on contentious matters, such as the battles between the LDP’s economic reformers and those favoring a return to the status quo of
channeling government funds toward key interest groups.5
The DPJ’s Discipline. The DPJ was formed in 1998 as a merger of four smaller
parties and was later joined by a fifth grouping. The amalgamated nature of the DPJ has
led to considerable internal contradictions, primarily between the party’s
hawkish/conservative and passivist/liberal wings. In particular, the issues of deploying
Japanese troops abroad and revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese
constitution have generated considerable internal debate in the DPJ. As a result, for much
of its history, the DPJ has a reputation of not being able to formulate coherent alternative
policies to the LDP. Additionally, battles between various party leaders have weakened
the party. Since winning the Upper House, however, the party has appeared much more
unified, at least on the strategy of using its veto power to try to force the LDP to hold
early elections. This discipline is remarkable considering that, privately and publicly,
many DPJ members chafe at Ozawa’s top-down leadership style. If the DPJ does worse
than expected in the next election, it is likely that he will be forced to step down.

 

FREE MONEY in Adachi-ku, Tokyo – apply “between late March and early April”

Out of my deep civic pride and dedication to the cause of getting FREE MONEY NOW from the government, here is my translation of the announcement from Adachi-ku about the current status of preparations to hand out the free cash. Watch your mailboxes to receive application forms between late March and early April:

We are currently preparing to pay out the fixed-sum cash handouts, etc.

Updated: March 5, 2009
We plan to  send applications to eligible payees by registered mail (kan’i kakitome) between late March and early April.

[Eligible recipients]
Persons who meet either of the following conditions as of the reference date (February 1, 2009)
(1) Persons listed in Adachi-ku’s official residence registry [tr: anyone registered as living in Adachi-ku in their juuminhyou]
(2) Persons listed in the official alien registry (gaikokujin touroku genbo) [tr: this means anyone with an alien registration card (gaikokujin tourokusho)] (persons on short-term visas are excluded)

[Payable amount]
12,000 yen per household member
(persons aged 65 or older or 18 or younger as of the reference date will receive 20,000 yen)

[Application procedures]
(1) Enter your account number on the application form and affix your official stamp (mitome-in) (you cannot use a stamp seal) [tr: Not sure, but you should be fine using the seal you used to open your bank account]
(2) Place the application form in the attached reply envelope and drop it in the mailbox.

* Due to the large number of eligible persons, we expect it will take 1-2 months for the funds to be deposited in each specified account. If you give a Japan Post Bank account, it will likely take even longer.

We will also pay a Child-rearing Support Special Allowance (for second children, third children, etc., born between April 2, 2002 and April 1, 2005) at the same time as the cash handouts.

Please watch out for fraud schemes posing as the official cash handout process.

If you receive a suspicious phone call regarding the cash payments, please contact your nearest police station (or call the police consultation line (9110)) or the Adachi-ku office assigned to cash handouts.

Use the attached sample for help filling out the application form (PDF).

Foreigners of Japan – Get your FREE MONEY!!!

With the passage of Prime Minister Aso’s landmark free money law, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has published a rough guideline on how to get your hands on that sweet, sweet cash.  Each local government will apparently provide details on how to receive funds, but please note the following:

  • ANYONE with an alien registration card can receive the 12,000 yen.
  • It looks like all foreigners have to apply in person (UPDATE: or by mail, depending on how your town does it), even if their wife/husband is the head of household.

This is your right by law, so be sure to line up and check with your local municipality’s website to get it!

The following is a rough translation of the official announcement, for your reference.

Payment of Cash Handouts

You will either be notified by your local authorities with specific details on how to receive the funds. [tr: Feel free to contact them yourself if you don’t see anything in the mail!]

Notice

Local municipalities are currently in the process of determining the specific preparations for handing out the payments.

Overview

Purpose of policy

To help deal with the residents’ uncertainty in this economic downturn, this policy’s objective is to support the residents’ livelihoods and to contribute to regional economic measures by providing payments widely to the residents.

Persons eligible for payments / who must apply

Those who meet the following conditions as of the reference date (February 1, 2009) are eligible to receive payment:

1) Persons registered on the official residency registry network (Juki Net)
2) Persons registered on the official alien registry (gaikokujin touroku genbo) (only illegal aliens and foreigners on short-term visas are exempt)

The applicant and recipient shall be the head of the household to which the eligible persons belong (foreigners must each apply and receive funds separately).

Payment amount:

12,000 yen for each eligible person
(Persons 65 or older or 18 or younger as of the reference date will receive 20,000 yen each)

Mrs. Adamu now blogging!

I am overjoyed to announce that after years of watching from the sidelines, Mrs. Adamu will now be sharing her thoughts with the world at her new Japanese-language blog, The Bibouroku. She decided to start writing as a way to record her experiences along with profiles and reviews of interesting people in the news, movies, music, and so on. So far she’s got posts on the film Slumdog Millionaire and singer M.I.A., who recently made a spectacle of herself by performing at the Grammys just days before she gave birth to her first child.
While I have to admit a bias here, trust me when I say Mrs. Adamu (writing under the mysterious pen name “Shoko”) offers a unique perspective on these issues thanks to her background studying in the States, traveling through India, and working with the underprivileged in Thailand.

Followers of Mutant Frog will know that Mrs. Adamu is my co-adventurer here in Tokyo. What you might not know is that much of my posting activity would be impossible without her kindness, patience, and support. I hope you’ll all join me in wishing her the best in this new initiative!

PS: You can subscribe to updates at the blog’s RSS feed.

Google Reader shared items meets the Adamukun blog!

Now my shared items are easier to view than ever — check them out as the top post on the new and improved Adamukun blog! I have also beefed up my sidebar.

As always I will keep my juiciest tidbits for the MFT audience (and occasionally Neojaponisme), but for right now I am having fun messing around with the Blogger settings and posting complete randomness.

While I am here, allow me to place the unqualified Adamu seal of approval on my new favorite band, Mates of State. I’ve been annoying my colleagues by humming this same tune for the past week or so:

Also, just curious: anyone else going to see Death Cab next weekend?

F-U journalism from Matt Taibbi

Following on the heels of yesterday’s post on a 1993 long-form, take-down profile of Gregory Clark, readers might be interested in taking a look at Matt Taibbi. He is a true master of what I call fuck-you journalism, something of a subset of gonzo style. If you thought the reporter for The Australian was a little harsh, you haven’t seen anything. Taibbi has got to be the biggest out-and-out dickhead in the entire business, though I am sure he could find far more biting insults for himself. Some choice bits:

On the death of Yeltsin:

Death of a Drunk
At long last, former Russian president and notorious booze-hound Boris Yeltsin dies

Boris Yeltsin probably had more obituaries ready in the world’s editorial cans than any chronically-ill famous person in history. He has been dying for at least twenty consecutive years now — although he only started dying physically about ten years ago, he has been dying in a moral sense since at least the mid-Eighties. Of course, spiritually speaking, he’s been dead practically since birth…I once visited Boris Yeltsin’s birthplace, in a village in the Talitsky region of the Sverdlovsk district in the Urals, in a tiny outhouse of a village called Butka. I knocked on the door of the shack where Yeltsin was born and stepped in the soft ground where his room had once been. Boris Yeltsin was literally born in mud and raised in shit. He was descended from a long line of drunken peasants who in hundreds of years of non-trying had failed to escape the stinky-ass backwater of the Talitsky region, a barren landscape of mud and weeds whose history is so undistinguished that even the most talented Russian historians struggle to find mention of it in imperial documents.

Reviewing Thomas Friedman’s latest book:

When some time ago a friend of mine told me that Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, was going to be a kind of environmentalist clarion call against American consumerism, I almost died laughing.

Beautiful, I thought. Just when you begin to lose faith in America’s ability to fall for absolutely anything—just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts— along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 114,000 11,400 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.

Where does a man who needs his own offshore drilling platform just to keep the east wing of his house heated get the balls to write a book chiding America for driving energy inefficient automobiles? Where does a guy whose family bulldozed 2.1 million square feet of pristine Hawaiian wilderness to put a Gap, an Old Navy, a Sears, an Abercrombie and even a motherfucking Foot Locker in paradise get off preaching to the rest of us about the need for a “Green Revolution”? Well, he’ll explain it all to you in 438 crisply written pages for just $27.95, $30.95 if you have the misfortune to be Canadian.

I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with Thomas Friedman for more than a decade now. For most of that time, I just thought he was funny. And admittedly, what I thought was funniest about him was the kind of stuff that only another writer would really care about—in particular his tortured use of the English language. Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying—and when you tried to actually picture the “illustrative” figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.

Remember Friedman’s take on Bush’s Iraq policy? “It’s OK to throw out your steering wheel,” he wrote, “as long as you remember you’re driving without one.” Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May:

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging.When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”

First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.

And on Tom Daschle (Glenn Greenwald dug this up when the tax problems that cost Daschle his cabinet position surfaced):

I know several reporters who are either officially or unofficially on “Whore Factor” duty, watching the rapidly kaleidoscoping transition picture and keeping track of the number of known whores and ghouls who for some reason have been invited to befoul the atmosphere of the next administration.

Obviously there has been some dire news on that front already. When Obama picked Tom Daschle to be the HHS Secretary, I nearly shit my pants. In Washington there are whores and there are whores, and then there is Tom Daschle. Tom Daschle would suck off a corpse for a cheeseburger. True, he is probably only the second-biggest whore for the health care industry in American politics — the biggest being doctor/cat-torturer Bill Frist, whose visit to South Dakota on behalf of John Thune in 2004 was one of the factors in ending Daschle’s tenure in the Senate.

But in picking Daschle — who as an adviser to the K Street law firm Alston and Bird has spent the last four years burning up the sheets with the nation’s fattest insurance and pharmaceutical interests — Obama is essentially announcing that he has no intention of seriously reforming the health care industry. . . .

Regarding Daschle, remember, we’re talking about a guy who not only was a consultant for one of the top health-care law firms in the country, but a board member of the Mayo Clinic (a major recipient of NIH grants) and the husband of one of America’s biggest defense lobbyists — wife Linda Hall lobbies for Lockheed-Martin and Boeing. Does anyone really think that this person is going to come up with a health care proposal that in any way cuts into the profits of the major health care companies?

That image has been burned into my head over the past week or so…

Of course, in Japan Taibbi would find himself up to his ears in defamation suits. In the US, he appears merely to be ignored as a sensationalist who can only get published in Rolling Stone.