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WIT Life #26: Yen-pinching

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken, 2000-03).  Recently she’s been watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese and sharing some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

Stories regarding ways to save a few yen just keep on coming. Today’s news polled eating and drinking establishments in the Tokyo area to see what effect the recession is having on them, and 7 out of 12 said that there hadn’t been much of an impact. Whether being hit or not, these days they are forced to come up with a variety of ideas to stay in business and keep customers satisfied.

One spot featured was a tachinomi (stand and drink) place that largely relies on self service. Here you can buy beer and other drinks from vending machines for as low as 150 yen, and small dishes such as sausage can be purchased from a kiosk for 60 yen. This one-man shop saw an 11.8% increase in business compared to last year at this time, and the owner cited reduction of labor costs as his reason for opening this kind of establishment.

Customers, Japanese and foreigners alike, were unanimous in their praise for being able to relax outside and drink for such a cheap price. One stated, “As opposed to sitting and drinking somewhere else for 3000 yen, I can enjoy myself here without worrying about the cost.” Indeed, the average bill at this tachinomi comes to a whopping 417 yen, about $4.64 at today’s 89.9 yen to dollar exchange rate.

Foreign-style bars are also growing in popularity. Some Japanese bars which had previously relied on a tab system have converted to cash on delivery, and one such location in Shinjuku has seen its sales increase 1.2% compared to last year. As he handed over his money to the bartender, one customer explained, “I like being able to see exactly how much I’m spending. Having to pay each time prevents me from going overboard.”

In an interesting twist, even Japan’s famed cafes are now serving alcohol along with their coffee. The one profiled, also in Shinjuku, showed several sets of female customers enjoying champagne and other kinds of alcohol. “Being able to drink here gives us a quiet environment to talk, something you can’t get at an izakaya,” explained one female patron. Another customer chimed in by saying that cafes are good for groups that are comprised of drinkers and non-drinkers. “Now both sides can feel comfortable getting together and drinking what they want, whether it is tea or beer.” By adding alcohol, cafes’ profit margins have grown. The average amount a customer who doesn’t drink spends is 903 yen, compared to those who imbibe whose average bill reaches 1650 yen.

Going forward it will be interesting to see what other types of innovations are incorporated in order for eating and drinking establishments to stay alive in this tough economic climate.

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