Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ecoshop System

They sure do use a lot of plastic bags here in Japan, eh?

When I first came here, I didn't know how to say "I don't need a bag", so I ended up with a bag collection that threatened to take over my whole apartment. In case some of you are in the same position, here are some expressions that might help.

fukuro wa iranai desu
I don't need a bag.

sono mama de ii desu
It's fine like that (implying that I don't need a bag).

I usually use the "it's fine" one, but some shop clerks don't get the hint (the bakery staff are THE WORST) and still try to stick me with the plastic, so I am then forced to use the more direct "I don't need a bag" one. When I first started using these expressions (a few years ago), the clerk would almost invariably start to fight with me about it. Recently, awareness of the garbage problem has become more prevalent, so I can usually get away without having to pick up my things and run out of the store while being chased by well-meaning (although not environmentally-friendly) clerks. I have, however, had some problems with people not accepting the very nice bag that I bring with me when I shop and insisting on putting a little piece of tape on everything that I buy. I don't mind that sort of thing if I am only buying one or two things, but I nearly had a fit the other day when I did a "big shop" at Gran Stage (buying about 25 items) and one of the clerks actually stood there and put little pieces of tape on EVERY SINGLE ITEM before I picked the item up and put it inside my bag and zipped up the bag. Unnecessary.

Anyway, the reason for today's post is not to talk about tape and being chased out of stores. No, today I want to tell you about the Ecoshop System and how we should all make a concerted effort to back this system.

Tsukuba City has started accrediting certain shops in the city as Ecoshops. Ecoshops are stores that are making efforts to decrease their environmental loads by engaging in activities such as...

1. Making an effort to sell products that are environmentally friendly (e.g. product that carry the "ecomark", products made from recycled materials, products sold in returnable containers).

2. Dedicating a spot in the store to ecological products.

3. Simplifying or eradicating their wrapping practices.

4. Promoting the use of shopping baskets and the customers' use of their own bags.

5. Repairing their own products.

6. Using recycled paper for their publicity.

7. Recycling empty cans.

8. Recycling empty bottles.

9. Recycling empty milk cartons.

10. Recycling produce trays.

11. Recycling plastic (PET) bottles.

12. Making other efforts to reduce the amount of garbage they produce.

As of January 2007, the following stores have been accredited as Ecoshops.

Ishimaru (Tsukuba)
Kasumi (Asse, Technopark Sakura, Gakuen, Tsukuba, Oho, Umezono, Grand Plechef, Midorino Eki Mae)
Gakuseifuku no Uchiya (Inarimae, Takezono)
Masuda (Kukizaki)
山三硝子 (I'm not sure how to read this... can anyone help?)
Uematsu Information Service

For this scheme to succeed, the public has to start modifying its behaviour by choosing to do business with stores like this, so I hope the foreign community can put its buying power behind this idea.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

A new COSTCO store scheduled to open in Saitama

Hooray! A new COSTCO store is scheduled to open in Iruma City, Saitama next Spring! I don’t know how convenient it is to go there from Tsukuba, but at least we can hope that the new store will ease the congestion at the Makuhari location.

*** COSTCO Iruma ****

- 3169 Miyadera* Aza, Iruma City, Saitama
(near Kenou Express Highway Iruma Exit)
*I'm not sure if this is the right way to read "宮寺"
**It is Miyadera, not Miyatera. Thanks Shaney!

- This Costco will be in the outlet mall tentatively called “Iruma Outlet Park

- The construction will start at the end of March this year, and is scheduled to be done next Spring


Here’s an article about it : NIKKEI NET (Japanese), and
Mitsui Fudosan’s Press release

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Store Opens in Hitachi no Ushiku

A new store opened up next to Hitachi no Ushiku station (on the Joban Line) today. It is called "Seiyu" and it is open 24 hours a day. It includes a large-scale grocery store that sells food, clothing, and certain household goods. On the second floor of the building, there is a bookstore, a Mujirushi (Muji) store, a pet good store, and some other shops.

I haven't been there myself yet, so I can't give you any more details, but if you are the kind of person who likes to shop around for discounts and you are not afraid of crowds, you might want to drop by on the weekend for some Grand Opening Sales. They have some special "bait" items, like laptop computers on sale for about 50,000 yen on Saturday from 9am. Of course, they only have a limited number of these computers (I believe about 16 in total), so if you really want one, you will have to line up rather early.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gift Idea

The first few times you go back to your home country, it is really easy to think of things to bring back to your family as gifts: lacquerware, sake and sake paraphernalia, kimonos, etc. After a few trips, though, you start to have trouble coming up with new ideas. One idea you might want to consider is puzzles. There is an extremely well-stocked puzzle shop in Tsuchiura (in the Joyful Honda complex) that has just the thing.

As you can see in the above image, you can get puzzles that have kanji on them, but you can also get "Japanese-y" art images and various other kinds of puzzles that would make great gifts.

The store's name is "Toy's House Joy", but they only have a few toys now. Apparently they used to sell a wider variety of toys, but they are now concentrating mainly on puzzles. You can see what the store looks like below.


Monday, November 27, 2006


A new store opened across from Ninomiya House on Nishi Odori on November 23. It is called "Casolea" and apparently it specializes in "organic cotton items". Casolea means "house of light" and the concept is that the store wants to bathe its visitors in light and warmth. Their products include clothing for women and infants, items for interior decorating, and other household goods.

The store is located at Ninomiya 1-1-10 and it is open from 10am to 7pm. It is closed on Wednesdays.

Here is Casolea's website and the phone number is 029-861-7752.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Homemade Sausages and Ham

In my travels, I happened upon a shop called Kaiser. At first I thought it might be a bakery, but it turns out that it sells homemade sausages and ham.

It is located near the Coco's on Nishi Odori closest to Route 354. The address is Inarimae 26-1. Go straight down Nishi Odori and turn left at the Coco's across from the National Institute of Environmental Studies. Turn right immediately after the intersection (right beside Coco's) and follow that road for a bit. You will see the store on your left.

I went with a friend and she bought some ham, so I will try to remember to ask her if it was good. I just thought I should let all of you know about this unique store.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sakura Technopark Revealed - 2

Videos of recent blockbusters – 100 yen!

If that doesn’t catch your attention, I don’t know what would. But you better hurry because they’re slowly disappearing as you read this. Which shop? Read further.

In this second installment of the Sakura Technopark series, allow me to introduce to you some of the other hidden surprises of our small, “secret” world. First stop is Big Ben, the 24-h, 2-storey video, CD and DVD rental shop that stands between Bamiyan and Saizeriya. That’s where you’ll find those secondhand 100-yen VHS tapes I mentioned earlier. The more recent ones (less than a year old) are slightly more expensive but not more than 500 yen. If you’re a film collector willing to put up with older technology or if you still have a VHS player at home, then instead of just renting, the film that you get is yours forever, to watch as often as you like or at your own leisure.

Music buffs can also explore Big Ben’s second floor where you’ll find the recent concerts and/or MTVs of your favorite artists. Last time I checked, there were Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, and Marlyn Manson DVDs on the shelf. The best way to determine if your favorite artist’s DVD is there is to visit Big Ben yourself. Don’t worry, there’s no entrance fee.

When is the best time to drop by? Big Ben halves rental prices every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. On these days, the usually half-empty store would be abuzz with people and lines to the rental counter would be very long. The queues begin lengthening at 4 or 4:30 p.m. and continue until evening. If there’s a film that you’re particularly interested in, come early.

Kawachi also offers VHS tapes of recent hits for a fixed price of 500 yen. Once every few months, they would actually be swamped with tapes and DVDs of classics, all for 500 yen. It just happens unexpectedly so it would help to drop by once in a while if you’re a serious film collector. Last time, I purchased a few Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne DVDs at 500 yen just to get the kick of watching (and owning!) excellent movies that were made even before I was born.

Between Kawachi and Kasumi stands a large bookstore that is not only filled with books and magazines but also CDs and DVDs. The prices are not much different from those of Ishimaru or Seibu but if you think these places are too far, then why bother going there? Also, as far as magazines are concerned, I think they have one of the most complete collections. They even sell some of those Linux magazines that are published only for top-class computer geeks.

And if you need a nice hair cut, salons galore dot Sakura Technopark. Prices vary from the “1,000-yen cut” near the bookstore I mentioned earlier to high-end salons that charge 5,000 yen upwards. I strongly discourage you though from going to the “1,000-yen cut” unless you’re the masochistic type. My wife tried there once out of curiosity and went home with the left side of her hair longer than the right side. To make her hair look even, she would have to bend her head slightly to the right. Yeah, she can do it for a few seconds but definitely not all day. She went back fuming and the “hair stylist” corrected it for free. The problem with that shop is that they want to cut your hair as quickly as possible, even if it would eventually mean you’ll have to disappear from Earth for a week or two.

I always to go “Summers”; the friendly guy there has been cutting my hair since I returned to Tsukuba almost two years back. “Summers” is in the building right in front of the bookstore and beside the “Digital Conbini”, which is also my favorite photo printing shop (quality there is absolutely top class). A cut plus shampoo at “Summers” is only 2000 yen if you go there in the mornings. You have to make reservations first, however. His schedule is starting to become very tight, esp. on weekends, as word about him continues to spread. You can’t go wrong if you go to “Summers” and you can take my word for it.

There’s one restaurant, by the way, that I forgot to mention in my first post, and that’s Chaya, the resto adjacent to Takarabune, which is at the entrance of Sakura Technopark. If you work or study at the university and have an hour to spare for a high-end lunch at low-end prices, then Chaya is the best place. The day’s specialty is only 880 yen while the more fancy courses go for 1200 to 1380 yen, inclusive of salad, soup and dessert. We had lunch there last Friday and the food was really very good.

And speaking about good food, particularly yakiniku, there’s Gyukaku further ahead. Outside this restaurant there’s a sign in Japanese that can be roughly translated as “We would like to be the number one restaurant for you.” As far as yakiniku is concerned, I think they have succeeded. In the evenings, esp. on weekends, they’re always full.

This post is becoming quite long again so I’ll pause here momentarily. By the way, Big Ben’s next half-price rental day is on July 26 so don’t forget to mark your calendars. In the meantime, you might want to check out those 100-yen VHS tapes before they completely disappear.

Or should I say, “Before I make them completely disappear”?


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Umezono House's New Store Hours

Hooray! The Umezono House in Umezono will have new store hours. It was open only on 2nd Saturdays and Sundays of the month from 9AM (or 10?) to 3PM until last weekend. However, using the Umezono House was very inconvenient since the NPO that runs the shop often changed the bazaar (that's how the association refers to the shop when it's open) dates to 1st or 3rd weekends and they didn’t have a website to announce their schedules. Well, they still don’t have a website, but there won’t be no more confusions on bazaar dates starting September because the shop will be open every Sunday from 10Am to 3PM!

For those who are not familiar with the Umezono House, it’s a thrift shop run by Asian Friendship Association which is a Tsukuba Chapter of SAEFI, Group for Supporting Asian Education Fund Ibaraki, and the proceeds from the sales go to SAEFI, disaster relief fund and other international support. They also help and work with international students and residents in this area, so I’m sure some of you who are reading this blog are far more familiar with this group and its activities than I am.

The Umezono House is a one-story house located across the street from the Umezono Park. The “TsukuBus Route 5” stops in front of the Umezono Park, and for those of you who don’t mind a bit of walking, you can also take Kanto Tetsudo Bus and get off at Namiki Danchi Minami which is right in front of the Joyo Bank building on Higashi O-dori.

The shop looks like a regular house, but inside is packed with used and some new clothes, dishes, books, toys, small electric appliances, and lots of other things. A black elementary school bag or randoseru, was still there when I went there last weekend. The Umezono House isn’t like the commercial recycle shop such as Off House, so the items on sale might have some stains and tears. As long as you don’t mind those problems, I think the Umezono House is the place to find the cheapest used clothes, kimonos or yukatas.

If you already have too much stuff in your apartment/house or if you are moving, you can also donate items to the Umezono House. I think they will accept almost anything, but please check with them if you are thinking about donating large furniture or electric appliances. Please note that you will be asked to donate around 300yen per bag or box to cover the cost of shipping used clothes to Asian countries because that’s what the Asian Friendship Association also does.

The shop at the Umezono location will NOT be open next month, but the association will have a booth in Chuo Park during Matsuri Tsukuba next month instead. I think they will have some fair-trade items on sale along with some second-hand items, so please check it out!

The Umezono House: Tsukuba City, Umezono 2-32-6


Monday, July 17, 2006

Sakura Technopark Revealed - 1

Why they called this area Sakura Technopark is easy to surmise. Tsukuba being an artificial city, it's easy to guess that some bland bureaucrat decades ago probably conjured the idea of planting sakura trees along the inner streets and then calling the area as such. But why “technopark”? From what it looks now, it is anything but a technology park.

But who cares, really? What used to be vast rice paddies and vegetable fields is now the veritable playground of bargain hunters, gourmets and gourmands, film and music buffs, and even the downright bored and homesick gaikokujin.

For those who work or study at the University of Tsukuba, Sakura Technopark is the ideal residence, especially for those who do not have cars like me. There's a bus service that takes you to Tsukuba Center once or twice per hour, even on weekends. And when it comes to finding basic necessities and cheap stuff, you're definitely in the right...location, location, location...

For bargain hunters, it is paradise! First stop is the newly opened “BookOff”. (Why it's called “BookOff” is beyond my imagination.) Here you can find English books for 105 yen and movie soundtracks for 250 yen. I was there two days ago and found a Gameboy Color for 500 yen. (I didn't buy it because I already have one, so it's probably still there. Hurry!) My wife also often buys 105-yen cookbooks and uses them to make magic in our kitchen. Last month, I bought a 2-inch-thick dictionary for just 300 yen. If you happen to go there in the evenings at around 7:30 p.m. and find someone chasing an 18-month-old toddler running between the shelves, that's probably me.

Then there's Kawachi, the big dry goods store a few meters away. If you want to buy drinks at wholesale prices, Kawachi's definitely the right place. See those 150-yen beverages in vending machines? They're just 98 yen at Kawachi. And those “expensive” wines at Yamaya? They're probably half the price in Kawachi. And if you're a beer guzzler, try to compare prices between Kawachi and Terashima, which is just a few meters across the street from Kawachi. My favorite Yebisu All Malt, which is a whopping 257 yen in convenience stores, is just 200 yen in Terashima. (Nope, it's not secondhand.)

Terashima also has a 100-yen section, which is probably one of the least known secrets in Sakura Technopark. I say “least known” because each time I go there, there are just too few people milling around. But if you need good quality yet inexpensive school supplies and party paraphernalia and you don't want to bother going to Dayz Town's Daiso, then Terashima is the right place. Fond of those night sticks that you see in war movies or in Disneyland? They're at Terashima for a mind-boggling price of 100 yen.

Speaking about 100 yen, Seria is the 100-yen store of Sakura Technopark. Looking at their merchandise, you wouldn't believe that they're that cheap: large porcelain plates, stainless steel bowls, coated skillets and casseroles, and even well-made calculators and gadgets. Certainly, Daiso is bigger and has a wider array of choices, but if you live nearby and need only a few stuff, then why go far?

If you're looking for household goods such as futons, beds, shelves, tables, chairs and the like, Sakura Technopark has Athena with prices comparable to those of Joyful Honda. But here's one secret that you should know: Athena has a perfume section and the prices are....need I say more?

For gourmets and gourmands, the restaurant lineup of Sakura Technopark is tops. There are Chinese, Italian, French, and Japanese restaurants as well as a few fastfood outlets. Probably the most expensive yet also very delicious resto in Sakura is Lyon de Lyon, which is a French restaurant. I've tried their lunch and dinner courses and have proven that the French (or those who cook French cuisine) really take their work very seriously.

Saizeriya (Italian) and Bamiyan (Chinese) are the favorite hangouts of students and gaikokujins because of their affordable prices. The food is also good although I prefer Bamiyan more than Saizeriya. And of course, there's the drink bar where the adventurous can experiment on mixing drinks and seeing how far their stomachs can hold out. A classier Chinese resto in Sakura is Oolong and their food is really, really good! (I'm drooling just thinking about it...) Too bad few people know this because when we go there, there aren't too many customers.

Lovers of Japanese food have choices aplenty at Sakura Technopark. There are noodle and sushi restaurants, and there's Samurai. Samurai used to be very good but when we went there in May this year to celebrate my sister's birthday, the waiter said that they are under new management and have thus changed the menu. We had a tonkatsu lunch for 1000 yen, which was really expensive considering that a similar tonkatsu is just 380 yen at the university.

Sakura has two major supermarkets, Kasumi and Marumo, which offer really affordable food and lots of choices. Kasumi is open 24 hours! (Amazing, isn't it?) Here's another secret that you should know. The best time to come to Kasumi is at around 8 – 8:30 p.m. That's when they halve the prices of sushi, sashimi, and bento boxes. (That's also when you would sometimes see my toddler running around the place (again!), much to his mother's chagrin.)

Of course, there's a McDonalds and Mister Donut in Sakura for the cheapest burgers and the best coffee, respectively. But if you're tired of those stuff, then one fastfood joint that we really patronize is the Curry House which you can easily find near 7-Eleven. Here, curry dishes are considered an art form.

This blog post has probably become too long so I'll end here. In my next post, I'll talk about what Sakura Technopark has to offer to film and music buffs as well as more of its secrets and surprises.

I live here, by the way, right in the heart of Sakura (my house is just a few meters away from Kasumi), so you can take my word about my world.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tsutaya Sale

You will be able to rent old videos and DVDs at Tsutaya (the video store near Ishimaru in Takezono) for 100 yen from 1am on Saturday July 22 to 1:00am Monday July 24 (in other words, from late Friday night to late Sunday night).

This would be a good time to start watching past seasons of a TV show. You could rent a whole season and then watch it during the week. That is, if you don't have anything better to do!