Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

More schizophrenic tabloid ramblings about Tokyo

Posted 20 Mar 2011 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, News, Tokyo, UK

Yes, I know that picking on British tabloids for their accuracy is like shooting fish in a barrel, but it’s so much fun!

On Friday the Daily Mail ran the following story:

And here are some choice quotes from it:

You could find a few die-hard Brits and other expatriates who wouldn’t leave their beers on the counter in the party-time district of Roppongi for any threatening radioactive cloud, but mostly Tokyo has become eerily quiet. Nobody wants to venture out and the streets are deserted.

…a city in fear – a city that was plunged into darkness last night as electricity was cut to conserve power following the massive loss of production at Fukushima.

‘They’ve said I can leave early,’ the blonde [British hostess], heavily wrapped in leather and furs, said in her north country accent. ‘A lot of us haven’t seen much of the news – how bad is it, then?’
There was no one in the whole of Tokyo who could tell her that, and even if they did, would it be the truth?

Today, however, another Mail reporter, probably in desperation after not finding anyone selling their own baby for a ticket out of Tokyo, has decided to put a “Well, they’re behaving in a very British way. Good on them” spin on things:

Choice quotes include:

For a ghost town supposedly on the brink of imploding, Tokyo was rocking last night.

…the streets of the world’s third-largest city are teeming.

…there had been no ‘mass panic’ among the Britons in Japan. One aircraft carrying those wanting to fly out was leaving later that day, with further flights due over the weekend – ‘although they are no way going to be full’, she said with a disappointed shrug.

[the reporter's translator said] ‘You can see for yourself that is not the case. Here in Japan we are more like the British with their stiff upper lip.
‘We admire you because we are similar. We don’t panic.

Panic? Of course not! None of the Brits even considered leaving, and I’m sure none of them phoned the British Embassy to bollock civil servants for not doing enough to get them the eff out of this nuclear hellhole. Whatever gave you that idea?

The Sun’s detailed eyewitness account of life in “post-tsunami” Tokyo

Posted 18 Mar 2011 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, News, Tokyo, UK

Well, today I:

  • went to work in central Tokyo (just 15 mins walk from the British Embassy) on a busy-as-usual train;
  • had curry for lunch – as I often do – at the Indian restaurant up the street from my office;
  • left for home an hour early because of a feared power cut (that never happened);
  • bought dinner from an entirely normal seeming food hall at my local station;
  • watched TV.

Keely Fujiyama, on the other hand, probably spent her day scraping radioactive lichen off her bathroom wall for dinner. Nerima-ku (which is actually closer to central Tokyo than where I live)  is apparently “like London in the zombie movie 28 Days Later.”

North Yorkshire

Posted 24 Aug 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Photography, Travel, UK

You may have noticed a distinct lack of postage on this blog recently. This is because the missus and myself were back in the UK, seeing my family. There’ll be more Japan-related posts soon(ish). In the meantime, here are some photos from our little sojourn.

Sheep. Unsurprisingly, you see lots of sheep in the Yorkshire Dales. These ones were hanging about near Leyburn.

A dry-stone wall. You see lots of these in the Dales, as well.

Wensleydale. Famous for its cheese, it’s also one of the few dales named after a village, rather than the river that runs through it.

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What’s the weather like in Tokyo?

Posted 17 Dec 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Tokyo, UK, Weather

Max and min temperatures in Tokyo and London

Spring (March, April and May)

The first half of spring is one of the rare times of year when the weather in Tokyo is comparable with London. The number of sunny days and average temperatures are about equal throughout March, though by the end of April Tokyo’s daytime highs are starting to reach into the high teens and low twenties.

Hanami usually hits Tokyo at the end of April and beginning of May (and thanks to global warming it’s getting earlier every year). The parks become packed with revellers even though it often rains buckets. Tokyo receives about three times as much rain as London during spring, but the high reliability of weather forecasts means that it’s easy to know when you’ll need a brolly.

Summer (June, July and August)

June through to July is the rainy season in Tokyo, though this is something of a misnomer as it can rain a lot more in September and October. Temperature-wise, June is usually very nice, the equivalent of a lovely summer’s day in London. July and August is when the humidity and heat can be intense: the middle two weeks of August usually sees highs in the mid thirties, so you’d be well advised to leg it to cooler climes.

Autumn (September, October and November)

September is often just as hot as August, though it can – and usually does – rain for days on end. Typhoons are especially common at this time of year but the chances of one hitting Tokyo full in the face are slim (ie, don’t worry about it). October and November are, on the whole, very pleasant. Expect lots of sunny, coat-free days, even up until the end of November.

Winter (December, January and February)

Tokyo’s minimum temperatures are lower than London’s during winter, and its highs are a couple of degrees higher. However, this doesn’t take into account sunshine and the wind-chill factor. Tokyo gets considerably more sunshine than London and doesn’t get battered by Siberian winds, so walking about during daytime is actually quite pleasant. The lack of cloud cover makes for nippy nights, though.

In terms of wet days per month London wins hands down. You can expect the majority of winter days in Tokyo to be rain-free. In addition, the air is very dry in the first two months of the year, which leads to an awful lot of static electricity.

Shibuya’s Hachiko Crossing comes to London

Posted 09 Nov 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category News, Photography, Tokyo, Travel, UK, Video

The new Oxford Circus

Well, that might be overstating it somewhat, but I was interested to see that design agency Atkins has revamped Oxford Circus with a very Shibuya-esque spin. Now all that’s needed is people. Lots of people:

Some neon lighting wouldn’t go amiss, either:

Hachiko Crossing, Shibuya, Tokyo

Back home

Posted 13 Sep 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Photography, Tokyo, Travel, UK

Currently enjoying a well-earned break back in the mother country, but will be returning to Tokyo very soon.

Is Japan Expensive? Part 4: Housing and Accomodation

Posted 19 Jul 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Photography, Tokyo, UK

Our final post in the series covers probably the single biggest living expense: accommodation. Tokyo, and London especially have a reputation for being two of the most expensive places in the world in terms of rent, so they will be our “test sites”, as it were, for investigation today.

As in earlier posts I’m going to compare the cost of living in two areas: Southgate in north London and Kichijoji in western Tokyo. Let’s begin by finding two relatively decent-sized flats:

For Southgate, I’ve chosen a nice little place in Haddon Court (N1), 0.4 miles from Oakwood station and 0.7 miles from Southgate station:

Southgate flat - outside

For Kichijoji, I’ve chosen this imposing-looking flat in the Honcho 1-chome area, just 7 minutes walk from Kichijoji station:


For Southgate, we have the added bonus of a nice selection of photos of the inside:

Sadly, the website I’ve used to search for flats in Tokyo (apamanshop.com) doesn’t usually post photographs of interiors. They do, however, always have a floor-plan. People often search for places to live in Tokyo by the overall size of the flat (in square metres) and their proximity to the station. The closer to a train station you get, the more expensive rent becomes.

Let’s look at the floor-plans, starting with the Southgate flat, which is 56 sq m:


And the Kichijoji flat, which is slightly bigger at 56.4 sq m:

As you can see, the layout of both is quite different. The Southgate flat has a proper kitchen, where the Kichijoji flat has a combined kitchen and living room (known as a LDK, or “living dining kitchen” – bit of a mouthful). Personally I prefer the separate kitchen offering, as watching TV while someone else (ie the wife) is doing the cooking in the same room is a pain in the arse.

One important factor to note is that the Southgate flat comes fully-furnished at no extra cost. For those who have no furniture of their own this is a great bonus. Unless you’re coming across to Japan with a company your Tokyo flat is highly unlikely to be furnished. People who have been transferred to Japan do very well in this regard, as they are usually placed in ridiculously expensive serviced flats in Azabu-Juban; for those coming across as English teachers, well, you’re not quite going to have the same level of luxury; and with some English schools you may find yourself sharing accommodation with one or two others.

But how about the cost? In basic terms, this is how much each flat will cost you per month:

  • Southgate: £964 (£225 per week ÷ 7 days = £32.14 per day)
  • Kichijoji: £926 (JPY168,000 for rent, plus JPY3,000 for management fees)

So, that’s pretty even, but! there’s one nasty surprise in store if you want to move into the Kichijoji flat: two-months rent in advance as a security deposit! Actually, this flat is much better than many others, which often require an additional two-months rent as “key money”: a non-refundable “thank  you” to your landlord, leaving you paying out a total of four-months rent before you even have your foot through the door.

With regard to discrimination against foreigners renting flats in Japan, I can’t deny that I have heard of it happening, but most of the (single) people I know who rent flats in Tokyo have managed to do so without too much trouble. Obviously it helps to know Japanese, or have a Japanese-speaking friend help you out, but it’s not impossible to do it without either of these.

That brings the “Is Japan Expensive?” series to a close for the time being. In the future I will look at the taxation system in Japan and how it affects foreign residents, but this is a very complex issue and I simply haven’t got the time to do it at the moment!

Exchange rate used correct as of 19 July 2008 (£1=JPY213.69).

Is Japan Expensive? Part 3: Clothing

Posted 26 Jun 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Shopping in Japan, UK

Part three of our “Is Japan Expensive?” series looks at clothing. For most newcomers to Japan who don’t speak the lingo the most likely line of employment will be as an English teacher or assistant, usually with one of the big “Eikaiwas” like Aeon, or through the government-sponsored JET programme. When you leave your home country you’ll have to fit all your worldly belongings in one large suitcase, and of course things can – and do – go missing. There is also the Japanese summer to contend with: 36 degree heat and 100% humidity will leave your once pristine shirts with horrible yellow stains around the armpit area, and thanks to the uselessness of most washing machines here (cold water only!) you’ll find them impossible to completely remove.

Basically, you’re going to need some new clothes.
For this week’s comparisons I’ve chosen either identical items of clothing or similar clothing from similar shops. I’ve only picked three items because, to be honest with you, the list could have gone on forever!

Jeans: Diesel Larkee

Polo shirt: M size, white

  • UK price: £12.00 – from Marks & Spencer
  • JP price: £6.06 (¥1,290) – from Uniqlo

Work Shirt: M size, white with stripes

  • UK price: £25.00 – from Topman
  • JP price: £23.67 (¥5,040) – from The Suit Company

As you can see, all items are cheaper when purchased in Japan. The Diesel jeans might be something of an exception, as Diesel stores in Japan seem to sell jeans for a significantly higher price than rakuten.com does (¥30,000 plus). Is this the same for the UK as well?

The polo shirt from Uniqlo is likely to be of a lower quality than its Marks & Spencer counterpart (probably a cotton/nylon mix), hence the much lower price. I highly recommend Uniqlo for basics (vests, underwear, etc) because it’s so cheap. They also have a spiffing t-shirt campaign running at the moment called UT, which has an equally spiffing website (take a look!). There are some limited-edition Metal Gear Solid 4 tees for sale at the moment (see here).

For work clothes, such as shirts and suits, Japan – or at least its main cities – provide an incredible range of shops to choose from. The Suit Company sells affordable clothing for 20-somethings who don’t wish to break the bank. One of the best features of The Suit Company is the variety of shirt sizes they offer, especially in sleeve length: compared with the average Japanese customer I have very long arms – very much like a shaved orang-utan – which has resulted in one or two disastrous purchases in the past.

In conclusion, if you’re of average height, and are not overweight, you will probably have little trouble buying clothes in Japan. Big feet can be a problem, however. Shoe shops usually stock sizes up to 28cm, which is a UK size 9. They do have sizes bigger than this, so you don’t have to wander around barefoot or anything, it’s just that your choice of shoes/trainers will be a bit more limited.

For shoes and trainers, ABC Mart is a good place to start, and if you’re a real trainer fanatic I strongly recommend exploring the streets of Shibuya (throw the map away – exploring is more interesting without one!).

Next week we’ll be looking at the biggest expense of them all: housing and rent.

(Prices calculated using 26th June’s exchange rate: #1 = 212.94)

Is Japan Expensive? Part 2: Home and Electronics

Posted 17 Jun 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, UK

Part two of our “Is Japan Expensive?” series continues with a look at things for the home. Compared with last week’s post on travel expenses, the price differences should be much clearer to see. FYI, UK sales tax (VAT) is over three times greater than it’s Japanese counterpart (17.5%, as opposed to 5%).

We’ll start off with two of life’s essentials: a PlayStation 3 and a decent-sized HDTV:

PlayStation 3 (40GB, black):

  • UK price: £289.99 – from Amazon.co.uk
  • JP price: £189.52 (¥39,980) – from Yodobashi Camera

Sony Bravia 40-inch HDTV:

  • UK price: £1,269.01 – KDL40X3000 from Amazon.co.uk
  • JP price: £1,158 (¥244,300) – KDL40X5000 from Yodobashi Camera

TOTAL:

  • UK: £1,599
  • JP: ¥1,347.52

The PlayStation 3 is much cheaper in Japan. Buying software can be problematic if you don’t know much Japanese, but thanks to online retailers – such as Play Asia and Video Games Plus – importing US games is cheap, quick and easy (the PS3 is region-free).

The TV was more difficult to compare, as I couldn’t find two Sony Bravia’s that were exactly the same in both countries. The price difference is not all that great between the UK and Japanese models, however the Japanese model is two generations ahead (X5000 vs. X3000), so you’re getting more advanced features for less money.

Next, let’s compare a bottom-of-the-range MacBook from the Apple store (2.1Ghz, 1GB memory, 120GB HDD):

  • UK price: £699
  • JP price: £615.26 (¥129,800)

The Japanese model is slightly cheaper. The differing rates of VAT are the most likely explanation for this.

We’ll wrap things up by looking at some furniture. Ikea has opened three of their enormous superstores in Japan over the past couple of years, which makes finding like-for-like items in their regional online stores easy.

We’ll begin with a 160cm x 200cm double-bed frame (Leksvik) and mattress (Sultan Fangebo):

  • UK price: £150 (frame) + £120 (mattress) = £270
  • JP price: £198.82 (frame) + £127.80 (mattress) = £326.62 (¥41,990 + ¥26,990)

After that, a nice white sofa (Ektorp):

  • UK price: £255
  • JP price: £236.27 (¥49,900)

And a decent-sized kitchen/living room table with four chairs (Antnas):

  • UK price: £119
  • JP price: £122.87 (¥25,950)

TOTAL:

  • UK: £644
  • JP: £685.76

We’ve finally found something cheaper in the UK! The price difference wasn’t enormous, and in fact it seems as though the bed frame made up the bulk of the extra expense. Furniture does tend to be quite expensive – and small – in Japan, but with Ikea now coming into the market things may change.

That’s all for today. Look out for part three, where we’ll be doing clothing, CDs, DVDs and books.

(Exchange rate for 17th July 2008: 1GBP = 211.04JPY)

Is Japan Expensive? Part 1: Travel

Posted 11 Jun 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Only in Japan, Osaka, Tokyo, Travel, UK

Is the UK more expensive than Japan these days? Over the next few posts I’ll be exploring just how much things cost in both countries. Let’s start with travel:

Travel by car:

First off, we’ll need to buy a car to get around in. I’ve chosen two examples here: the VW Golf R32, which is a beast of a machine; and a Honda Civic, which is your general pootling-about vehicle.

Japanese road tax varies from ¥10-50,000 (approx. £50-250) depending on engine size; in the UK road tax can be anything from £35 to £400. Our sample cars would probably fall into the higher and medium-range tax brackets, respectively:

Golf R32 (Same model in both countries – 3-door MT)

  • UK price: £24,950
  • JP price: £19,610 (¥4,114,286)

Honda Civic (Japan – 1.8G, 5-door MT; UK – Civic 1.4S, 3-door MT. Both were the cheapest possible models I could find)

  • JP price: £9,231 (¥1,937,250)
  • UK price: £13,410

So for a simple purchase, Japan wins on both counts. Of course, Japan’s motorways are tolled, whereas the UK is – with one or two exceptions – free, which is something to take into account when thinking about travelling long distances. And there’s the added cost of a parking space, which would probably cost somewhere in the region of ¥30,000 (approx. £150) per month around west Tokyo.

Fuel prices are easy to compare. I’ve chosen a representative suburb of London and Tokyo from which to work on: Southgate in North London and Kichijoji in west Tokyo. Both are around the same distance from the political and financial centres of their respective cities:

Petrol (regular unleaded, per litre):

  • UK price: £1.13
  • JP price: £0.83 (¥164)

Blimey, that’s quite a huge difference!

Commuting:

First off, I should point out that most (95%+) Japanese companies pay for the cost of their employees’ commute to work, which is usually by train. This may happen with some companies in the UK, but is far less common.

For our sample journey, I’m again going to use Southgate (London) and Kichijoji (Tokyo) as our representative suburbs. I’ve picked Southgate to Westminster and Kichijoji to Ichigaya as our routes. Both take approximately the same length of time and cover the same distance, travelling from the outer suburbs to the centre of their respective cities. Let’s start with a monthly rail pass:

  • UK price: £132.90 – Southgate to Westminster, Zones 1-4
  • JP price £42.01 (¥8,890) – Kichijoji to Ichigaya

The big difference with both of these passes, apart from the huge gulf in price, is that with a pass in London you would be able to travel anywhere within Zones 1-4. With the Tokyo pass you would be able to travel anywhere between Kichijoji and Ichigaya for free, provided you use the same train line (in this case the JR Chuo-Sobu line). That’s good if you want to travel to, say, Shinjuku, but for the other “centres” of Tokyo you’d have to pay a little bit extra each time.

To make it a bit fairer, let’s compare the price of a one-way journey along the same routes:

  • UK price: £2.50 – Southgate to Westminster
  • JP price: £1.38 (¥290) – Kichijoji to Ichigaya

Tokyo still comes out on top, but the price difference isn’t quite as enormous.

Long-distance rail travel:

Japan is famous for their shinkansen (bullet trains), so I couldn’t write a post about travel without mentioning them at some point, could I? I’ve personally never had that much trouble with high-speed trains in the UK, but I’m sure there are millions who have, and who would be more than happy to recount their horror stories.

For high-speed trains, I’ve chosen London-Newcastle (270 miles) for the UK, and Tokyo-Osaka (343 miles) for Japan. Despite the extra 130 miles covered by our Japanese train it still manages to reach its destination more than 20 minutes ahead of its British counterpart (2hrs 36mins for Tokyo-Osaka and 2hrs 59mins for London-Newcastle).

Pricing is a bit different for both countries. In the UK it’s possible to get hugely discounted high-speed train tickets provided you book well in advance; in Japan shinkansen tickets are – in general – the same no matter how far in advance you book. To make it fair, I’ve compared the price for an open-single ticket for both (travel at any time of the day, on any train):

  • UK price: £124.50 – London King’s Cross to Newcastle, standard open single ticket
  • JP price: £66.07 (¥13,850) – Tokyo to Shin Osaka, reserved seat

The shinkansen looks much cheaper here, but bearing in mind the booking-in-advance rule in the UK, it really isn’t: I could get a return ticket from London to Newcastle for £66 provided I sorted it out a week or two in advance.

That’s all for this post. Look out for “Part 2: Household Goods”, where I’ll be comparing the price of TVs, sofas and other assorted gubbins!

(Prices based on 11th June 2008 exchange rates: 1GBP = 209.55JPY)

Japan’s hybrid cars enter a new era

Posted 08 Jul 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Technology, UK

Courtesy of the Yorkshire Post and Unc. N.

Datsuns