At your Convenience

6 11 2009


Seven-Eleven. Lawsons. Family-Mart. Mini-Stop. Daily Yamazaki.

What may sound like the line-up of the Grand National are in fact the names of the largest “Konbini” chains in Japan.

Konbini or Convenience Stores originated in America, but the Japanese have taken them to their collective hearts. Japanese Kobini differ from their American counterparts in that they don’t sell petrol, lottery tickets or car supplies, but they do have that Japanese twist. Coming from a country like the UK, the closest thing we have is Spar, but it doesn’t come close to the myriad of foodstuffs and home supplies you can find in the Kombini.

Ice-cream, ATM’s, Alcohol, soft drinks, snacks, magazines, cleaning supplies, bathroom toiletries, bento (Japanese style lunchboxes), milk, onigiri (rice balls), tobacco and cup noodles are just a few things that the Kombini sells.

” Convenience stores rely heavily on the point of sale. Customers’ ages, gender, as well as tomorrow’s weather forecast, are important data. Stores place all orders on-line. As their store sizes are limited, they have to be very careful in choosing what brands to sell. In many cases, several stores from the same chain do business in neighboring areas. This strategy makes distribution to each store cheaper. It also makes multiple distributions per a day possible. Generally, foods are delivered to each store two to five times a day from factories. Since products are delivered as needed, stores do not need large stock areas.

According to the The Japan Franchise Association, as of August 2009[update] (data pertaining to the month of July 2009), there are 42,345 convenience stores in Japan. Among them, 7-Eleven leads the market with 12,467 stores, followed by Lawson (9,562) and FamilyMart (7,604). Most items available in larger supermarkets can be found in Japanese convenience stores. In addition, the following additional services are also commonly available:

Taken from



3 11 2009



So as my fiancee and I make plans for our wedding on December 20th, I found an interesting article in The Japan Times, and thought I’d share it with you.

Marriage may be an institution, but it’s permutations have run the gamut from polygamy, a practice that dates to ancient times but is still allowed in certain areas, to the recent legalization in some places of same-sex partnerships, with everything in between.

Postwar Japan has seen a shift from family-oriented marriages in which parents play matchmaker to individuals pursuing true romance. With democracy, women attained equal rights in marriage in terms of assets and custody.

These days, the concept of marriage is a source of great worry in Japan, as couples are tying the knot later in life. This, the graying population and falling birthrate are causing headaches for society.

Following are questions and answers regarding the marriage situation in Japan:

How did most people marry before the war?

Most marriages were arranged by parents, relatives and heads of households, because a marriage was more about joining one family to another.

Under the Civil Law, which took effect in 1898 during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the “ie” family system debuted, legally centralizing various rights to the head of the household, who in principle was the first-born son.

This system, abolished in 1947, was often criticized as feudal and discriminatory against women.

According to “Meiji no Kekkon Meijino Rikon” (“The Meiji Marriage the Meiji Divorce”) published in 2005 by Kadokawa Gakugei Shuppan Publishing Co., the head of the household held all property and rights over the wife, including parental authority.

Adultery was a criminal offense if committed by the wife. Not so for husbands, many of whom tended to stray.

Is it true fewer people are getting married these days?

Apparently so, and statistics indicate people are getting married at a later stage in life.

Data for 2005, the most recent compiled by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, shows that 47.1 percent of men from 30 to 34 were single, up from 32.6 percent in 1990, and 32.0 percent of women were single in the same age bracket, up from 13.9 percent in 1990.

According to Masahiro Yamada, a professor of family sociology at Chuo University, it is not about an increase in the number of people who want to stay single, but an increase in those who want to get married but can’t.

He notes three social obstacles to marriage: decreases in men’s salaries, more women who desire to be a housewife only, and the rise of “parasite singles” — men and women who live comfortably with minimal expense under their parents’ roofs.

“Women are staying at home with their parents, waiting for a man with a high income to come along. But there are fewer of these men, and hence the women are growing old as spinsters,” Yamada said.

Are the ways couples meet changing?

Yes. According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, about 70 percent of all marriages before the war were arranged. Nearly 60 years later, the percentage has plunged to 6.4 percent.

The group’s data show that most couples in recent years tied the knot based on affectionate ties nurtured through dating.

But there are many single men and women who, partly due to long working hours, complain they have little opportunity to meet a significant other.

This trend has turned matchmaking into a growth industry. The Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry estimated in 2006 that the sector saw sales of between ¥50 billion to ¥60 billion.

Some parents desperate to find the right partner for their offspring even exchange profiles of their children.

Are same-sex marriages allowed in Japan?

No. Article 24 of the Constitution stipulates that marriage should be based on the mutual consent of “both sexes.”

According to “Pa-tona-shippu — Seikatsu to Seido” (“Partnership — Life and the System”) published in 2007 by Ryokufu Shuppan Inc., a guideline used by the Justice Ministry to examine immigration cases, the term “spouse” does not include those of same-sex unions.

What is the rule for surnames after marriage?

If both partners in a marriage are Japanese, the last name of one must be adopted, but not necessarily the male’s, as is the case in most Western countries. But if one spouse is a foreigner, the name of the Japanese spouse remains the same unless a change is filed within six months of the marriage.

Ardent advocates of the right to keep separate surnames, particularly a maiden name, have opted for common-law marriage.

The Democratic Party of Japan has submitted a revision of the Civil Law to the Diet in the past to enable couples to carry separate family names. Most recently, Justice Minister Keiko Chiba expressed her intention to submit a bill in the next ordinary Diet session to allow different surnames.

But conservative lawmakers, including some in the DPJ, oppose the change because, they argue, it would change the structure of the traditional family.

What is the divorce rate?

The divorce rate has remained relatively stable for the past decade, exceeding 250,000 cases annually. In 1970, the marriage rate was 10 percent and the divorce rate 0.93 percent. The figures indicated the percentage of marriages and divorces per 1,000 people.

In 2008, however, the marriage rate was 5.8 percent, while the divorce rate was 1.99 percent.

According to Chuo University’s Yamada, who conducted a survey on divorces, many of them were the result of a drop in the husband’s income.

Yamada agreed that it has become more socially acceptable to file for divorce, but he added it is now a matter of course that wives pursue divorce if their husbands fail to bring home the bacon.

“For the men, when the money runs out, so does the relationship,” Yamada said. “And most women take the children back to their parents’ home — they become parasites again.”

What about international marriages and what are some of the problems connected with the divorce and parental rights when those marriages fail?

International marriages are on the increase. According to the health ministry, about 5.1 percent of all marriages, or 36,969 out of the 726,106 couples who wed in 2008, were international marriages, with one of the spouses being a foreigner, up from 25,626 mixed marriages in 1990.

In one example of how international divorces can get ugly, last month an American was arrested in Fukuoka for allegedly trying to kidnap his own children back from his divorced Japanese wife, who had actually defied a U.S. court custody decision and brought the children to Japan.

According to media reports, the man was granted full custody of the children by a Tennessee court, but the ex-wife took the children back to Japan.

Japan is not a signatory member of the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is designed to deter international parental child abductions.

The husband was released from jail and went home empty-handed.”

Taken from The Japan Times, November 3rd, written by Masami Ito.

Teaching in Japan

2 11 2009


So, as you may or may not be aware, I am an English Language teacher in Japan. This is by far the easiest way to get work over here, as many of the large eikaiwa (large chain schools) will sponsor your working Visa and find you accomodation.

There are many critics of eikaiwa schools, those people who have a had a bad experience or felt like they were on a endless conveyer belt like unwanted sushi. I, however, have not had any problems with working for eikaiwa schools and will not criticse them for the sake of it.

I currently work for AEON, and have to say it’s a good solid company, especially when compared to my last eikaiwa employee, NOVA. I didn’t have any real issues with NOVA and left just before they collapsed, but AEON seems to work better on many levels.

Firstly the interview process is very selective, and needs both a modicum of intelligence and teaching ability. The AEON recruitment staff were very helpful and in constant contact with me during time before I left England. Secondly the training is intense, but far more helpful than the three days at NOVA.  Thirdly, my lesson schedule doesn’t change. I have MY students. Finally, we can socialise with the students if we so wish, and although it’s expected for teachers to go to parties they have all been a lot of fun.

I will add some links for all the main English language schools in Japan, and if you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Halloween in Japan

31 10 2009


As we all know today is Halloween. It’s never been a day that I’ve particularly liked or ever really participated in. However in Japan it has been growing in popularity, as the following article from the Japanese Times explains,
Retailers and sweets makers are cashing in on the rising enthusiasm among Japanese for Halloween, a Western tradition that has become popular here only in the past decade.

Some industry sources even predict the Halloween-related market will surge 60 percent from last year as more Japanese get into wearing costumes, saying “trick or treat” to neighbors or simply looking for an excuse to party.

“Convenience stores and department stores began Halloween decorations two or three weeks earlier this year. Sales of sweets and snacks in Halloween packaging are really strong,” said Kiyoshi Kase, representative of the Japanese Anniversary Association, an independent group that helps businesses’ sales campaigns by creating and pitching various “commemoration” dates. “Related industries want to get on the bandwagon,” he said.

The association estimates that Halloween-related sales will total ¥60 billion this year, up by about 60 percent from last year’s record ¥38 billion.

Kase attributed the sharp sales rise to a combination of several factors: Japanese have become more familiar with the event, stores are accordingly starting sales campaigns earlier, and more parties are being planned at home and restaurants this year with Oct. 31 falling on a Saturday.

Many people also want to cheer themselves up at little cost amid the gloom of the recession, Kase added.

“When the economy slumps, people stay home and celebrate anniversaries for their families. Halloween is about kids and parents spending money on them,” Kase said. “And after all, candy and costumes are cheap. Halloween is a reasonable indulgence.”

Spokeswoman Mayumi Funaki of online mall Rakuten Inc. said sales of Halloween goods jumped 45 percent this year thanks to brisk interest in costumes for women and kids.

Discount chain Don Quijote Co. saw its sales of Halloween-related goods rise 20 percent this year, spokeswoman Aya Suzuki said. She also cited increased demand for costumes.

Daiso Sangyo, which runs ¥100 shops, began Halloween campaigns three years ago and the popularity of goods such as witch’s hats, presents bags and stickers has been growing ever since, spokeswoman Hiroko Kusaka said.

Morinaga & Co., a major confectionary maker, is selling 11 Halloween-related products, up from nine last year, and sales have increased 20 percent from a year ago, spokeswoman Kaori Nakamura said.

Luxury goods sellers and amusement parks are also riding the momentum.

Isetan department stores stepped up their Halloween campaigns this year and customers have shown increased interest in related accessories and other fashion goods, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holding spokeswoman Miyako Otsuka said.

Oriental Land Co., operator of Tokyo Disney Resort, began Halloween events and decorations in Tokyo DisneySea for the first time this year, because a similar campaign in Tokyo Disneyland, which began 1997, has become popular recently, a company spokeswoman said.

These firms hope Halloween keeps growing and becomes a major consumer event like Christmas. The anniversary group’s Kase is optimistic.”

“This year is the detonator of a Halloween frenzy bomb and the frenzy will continue from next year on,” he said.

And tonight, even I must participate in an AEON Halloween Party…all together now “We did the Mash. We did the Monster Mash. The Monster Mash. It was a Graveyard Smash”


27 10 2009

Islands of Japan

Japan (日本, Nihon or Nippon?, officially 日本国) is made up of  6852 islands with the four largest, Honshu (mainland Japan) Kyushu (the Southern Island), Hokkaido (the large Northern Island) and Shikoku. These four islands are home for 97% of the population, which as of 2009 stood at 127,590,000 people.

Japan consists of 47 Prefectures (like Counties or States) and then each Prefecture is divided into cities, towns etc. 70-80% of Japanese land is mountainous and forested making it unfit for residential or agricultural use. This has resulted in cities with high population densities such as Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka.

Japan is a constitutional Monarchy, much like the UK, with the Emperor’s power being very limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined by the constitution as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people”. The real power lies with the Prime Minister and the Japan Parliament, the Diet.  The two main parties in Japanese politics are the social liberal DPJ and the recently ousted conservative focused LDP.

Taoism and Confucianism from China have  influenced Japanese beliefs and customs. Religion in Japan tends to be syncretic in nature, and this results in a variety of practices, such as parents and children celebrating Shinto rituals, students praying before exams, couples holding a wedding at a Christian church and funerals being held at Buddhist temples. A minority (2,595,397, or 2.04%) profess to Christianity.[117] In addition, since the mid-19th century, numerous religious sects (Shinshūkyō) have emerged in Japan, such as Tenrikyo and Aum Shinrikyo (or Aleph).