Institutional Waste: The English Department Buffet Lunch

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Trash | Posted on 09-05-2009

I am continually shocked at the amount of waste produced by institutions such as universities and schools, especially when one would expect the minds at the forefront of society to be the first to change the wasteful habits of humanity. Last week, our department held it’s annual freshman seminar, which basically means a bunch of speeches by students who studied abroad, a big buffet lunch, topped off by badly designed and very not fun “get to know your teachers” game. Not once was I consulted regarding the event, which is a shame since I ran a series of very popular childrens camp programs and have rather a lot of experience with event planning. It seems to me that so very little thought was put into the event, it’s such a shame when something wonderful could have been done.

The buffet lunch – the primary consumers of which I should say were 18 year old girls that tend to watch their weight very carefully – consisted of huge tables of random cold pizza, cold burgers and sandwiches and other finger foods. Very typical affair with sub-standard food, but the proportions were shocking. The portions were piled high and it was quite obvious from the start that no one would be eating that much. In fact, it seems it was planned on from the start – one teacher had even had the forethought to bring plastic trays for everyone to take home leftovers. Here’s what I brought home, sorry I didn’t take any pictures of the actual tables of food – but imagine about 5 times this amount PER PERSON being leftover and you’ll get the idea. That’s for 100 or so people, by the way.

img_0228

Really, it made me sick to think that so much money and so much food could be wasted – I’m sure these girls aren’t paying extravagant tuition fees to have them frittered away on horrendously bad quality food and blank videotapes

Not only was the food wasted, but the opportunity to make an enjoyable event that might be remembered by the freshmen for the rest of their university career was wasted by failing to consult the rest of us.

Submitted to Food Waste Friday @ FrugalGirl. Frugal Girl is one of my inspirations for starting this site, so do please go check her out.

Follow our Frugal Twitter Tips

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Coupon Codes, Reader Tips | Posted on 28-04-2009

twitter-birdI’m pleased to announce the launch of the FrugalistaJapan twitter feed. I occasionally come across vouchers and random money-saving tips that don’t really warrant a full blog post, so I’ll be posting them to twitter feed instead.

Also, I recently entered some random Suntory competitions on the internets, and if I can get lots of clicks here and here, they will send me a case of beer! Yoroshiku tanomu! I think you can also enter the main competition if you do the quizzes they take you to, but they’re in Japanese. I’ll be sure to let you know if I get anything~

Coming soon: How to get free stuff in Japan by collecting random stickers. GETS!

A Months Worth of Whinges In One

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Personal | Posted on 21-04-2009

For those of you who don’t know, whinge is a British word meaning to complain about something incessantly. I’ve been bookmarking and mulling over a lot of little things for the past week or so that I was planning to post lots of little whinges, but instead I thought I’d bundle them all into one and give you twelvty-times the value. Feel free to gloss over this if the inner ramblings of an angry frugal British guy don’t really interest you.

Happy Victims should be shot and their wardrobes sold:

61rc2akpyel_ss400_An art-critic workmate of mine lent me a book today about fashion victims of Japan called “Happy Victims“. It was basically photos and interviews with a ton of Japanese people who are obsessed with a certain brand, going so far as to spend 90% of their wages each month on purchasing the latest seasons items. Some of them were rich housewives of designers, some regular office ladies working an 8am-11pm grueling hell hole of a job. I’m sure some of you are of the belief “each to his own”, and that as long as they aren’t hurting anyone we should just leave them to their clothing-fetish. Sorry, but I’m not like that. I believe passionately that humans have a moral responsibility to use their earnings responsibly, and sickens me to the heart to learn of these people wasting money on overpriced brand clothing, even if some of them are working hard for the priviledge of doing so. For the price they spend on one dress or outfit, a child could be clothed, fed and schooled until adulthood. There should be a 100% tax on brand name goods that goes straight to closing the poverty gap – that, or these people should be shot and their entire wardrobe sold, with the proceeds being used to raise some children with a hopefully higher moral imperative that collecting overpriced tat.

Pay for the priveledge of walking and running:

Last sunday my girlfriend convinced me to go to a free trial-session at a local sports club. I’m quite happy to go there for free, but I was pretty shocked at the membership prices – around 5,000 yen a month! The club had a pool, which I might have been more tempted to use if I didn’t have to wear a special cap for the purposes of hygiene. Hey, I understand cleanliness issues, but wearing a cap just sucks. It’s the reason I’ve only been swimming twice in Japan in 6 years – once is Lake Biwa in Shiga and once in a family pool that I had to travel an hour by train to get to and was packed with screaming children anyway. In England I swam every week and you don’t see me dying from some kind of hair infection. Whatever – the only real reason I would go to a sports club is for weight training anyway. But the machine room here was tiny. There was a row of walking and cycle machines, and about 2 proper weight training machines. They did a pretty bad job of convincing me to pay 5,000 yen a month for the privilege of being able to run and walk. If you really want to lose weight and get fit then start cycling to work and stop eating so damn much. Don’t waste a penny in ridiculously overpriced sports clubs. Do we really need to waste land with a building full of walking machines? Let’s destroy the sports clubs and build some green parks!

The Most Spoiled Dog in Japan:

Hey, I love dogs. And I totally respect this couples choice to raise a dog instead of adding another human virus onto the world, but this is just insane. (original via JapanProbe)

Merumo is apparently a top model in the world of doggy fashion magazines, the kind of thing that Japanese just spooge over.

  • The apartment has a special security system that won’t allow visitors to take the elevator to that floor without an invitation.
  • Merumo doesn’t like being hot, so her owner bought marble flooring for the living room. (estimated cost: 3,000,000 yen)
  • She drinks out of a silver Gucci dog bowl.
  • When leaving the house, she can ride in a Luis Vitton carry bag (236,250 yen).
  • When going for a walk, she can wear one of several brand name dog collars and leashes: Hermès (65,000 yen + 85,000 yen) or Gucci (69,300).
  • Merumo’s owner rents another room in the apartment building just to store all of Mermo’s special clothing. Merumo has a fancy kimono (80,000 yen), 10 fur coats (one costs 180,000 yen), and a whole bunch of other stuff. (Total cost: about 3,000,000 yen)

Sure, treat your pets the same as you would your own children is a pretty morally sound way to live I think, so let’s think about what she’s guilty of even if it were a spoiled little human brat. Yes, it’s her own money, and I’m sure her husband works hard for it, but does this couple have any sense of human decency?

What is it that makes these kind of people completely disregard the hardships of everyone else in the world? Are they so entrenched in their modelling / designer / financial careers that they’re blinded to their fellow man? Really, this makes me so sick. Did they actually make a concious decision when they purchased that Gucci bowl? Do they think wasting money – and let’s be in agreement here, this is wasting money – is cute? Do they actually have a severe psychological problem? Are they aware of anyone outside of their own pitiful existence? Arrrgh!


Thanks for reading if you made it this far – this isn’t my normal style, but sometimes I have to just let the rage loose,as there are things in this world are just so wrong. As ever, remember the reason you’re being frugal in your own life – to be able to help those who have been born into poverty and bad situations through no choice of their own. You however, have a choice. You can choose to not be selfish with your earnings. You can choose to purchase a no-brand shirt in lieu of that Armani one you’ve been eyeing. You can choose to be financially and ethically responsible. Act now to change the lives of those in need.

First Kiva Loan Funded – Thanks to all my readers!

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Projects | Posted on 18-04-2009

288664A big thank you to all my readers, as I just reached my first subscriber goal of 50, and as promised I have made my first microloan of $25 to a Cambodian village bank group which will use the money on various agricultural projects of their members.

But it doesn’t end there! My next target is 100 subscribers, and to sweeten the deal this time I’ll be donating $50 once I reach the target! That’s one dollar for every new subscriber, so please let your friends in Japan know about this site and all the great money-saving strategies and frugal news they can get here.

Once again, thanks to all who helped reach this first goal and subscribed to my feed! Yatta!

Slow Times In Japan: A Year in Yokkaichi

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Personal | Posted on 06-04-2009

jbmatsuri460x115This months JapanSoc Blog Matsuri, hosted by Ken from WhatJapanThinks is all about slow times in Japan – the antithesis of last months fast times in Japan. I couldn’t enter last month with the efforts of moving house, so this month I really made an effort to get something done in time – a little story of how this site was born…


yokkaichi9Having spent nearly 3 years in Kyoto city, the end of my JET contract was looming near and I was faced with the horrendous concept of having to actually go home. Not quite ready to get a real job yet, I took the first teaching position that EnglishTree offered me – a private eikaiwa company to start ASAP, the only catch being that it was in Mie prefecture. Yokkaichi city, no less – a city famous only for having such bad air quality that it has a lung disease named after it. No kidding. Pictured right – typical Yokkaichi scenery.

Desperate, I took the job and the pay cut. Despite earning only two-thirds of what I did on JET, I would apparently enjoy greater freedom in lesson planning and be able to “widen my teaching experiences with young children and older adult students”. Hah! Horrid little children who have no interest in learning and whose mothers treat eikaiwa classes as a daycare centre while they go shopping; and crazy old Japanese women who come to eikaiwa because no one else will talk to them anymore. It’s sad really. One of my elder students even refused to speak or learn English – she was coming once a week purely for the company (after all, eikaiwa is cheaper than a host club, but only just).

I soon found the company was a disaster waiting to happen. In total, I taught about 6 x 1-hour lessons a week. Half of those were in a classroom situated in the same building as my company sponsored apartment, so there wasn’t much travel time unless you count the treacherous stairs from the fourth to second floor. There were so few students that I seriously had suspicions the company might be a money laundering front for the yakuza, because they sure as hell weren’t making any money off me. I know how much my students were paying, and it didn’t add up. Nevertheless, the company kept me until I finally got bored a year later and moved back to a university job in Kyoto.

But wow, that was one slow year. It was nice in a way, to have so much damn free time. I often hear JETs complain about the amount of free time they have while not teaching in schools, but this was just a joke.

What did I achieve in this year of abundant free time? Not an awful lot, truth be told. Yokkaichi is one hell of a boring city, especially when your entire neighborhood only speaks Spanish and the nearest JET ALT is a 30 minute train ride away. I did however attend Japanese driving school to get my motorcycle license, which was quite an experience and potentially another article all in itself. I looked after my fellow (Japanese) teachers cat for 4 months as he was whisked away to Australia, during which time I experienced my biggest earthquake yet; and the biggest tidy-up ever of aforementioned co-workers apartment which was covered wall to wall in books and assorted crap he had hoarded through the ages. I drove to and from Kyoto on a 50cc scooter multiple times; mostly just to play in a DnD role play game with some old friends and hang out with a girlfriend who eventually dumped me for living in the inaka! I even repainted the walls of my apartment.

211for_yokkaichiAlong with the free time came quite a lot of spending money too. With no friends around and knowing nowhere to explore, I spend very little of it on going out. On top of which, my rent was subsidized by the school and my electricity, gas and water was free. I bought a Nintendo DS lite, and found that even after downloading all the games in the world for free, they pretty much all sucked… and consequently sold that. I bought an exercise machine, thinking I might be able to work out a little while I watch TV – hah! I bought a drum machine, compelled by my free time to fulfil some kind of childhood fantasy – and sold it a few months later. I bought a projector to watch movies big screen – and, actually I still have that. I bought a Nintendo Wii the day it was released, after queuing for a whole 12 minutes – and sold it no less than a month later due to lack of friends to play with and no good single player games! The real punchline is yet to come though – my current girlfriend also had a Wii, but she sent it home to her parents because she also didn’t really have anyone to play with – and we’re actually now seriously considering getting a Wii (again) to play together! The hilarity of the situation overwhelms me, really, in an entirely not-funny kind of way.

And then I came back… to this quaint little town of Kyoto; to good friends and good times; to the realization that I had wasted a year of wages and free time and had very little to show for it. And that, dear readers, is the point at which my financial inability reached a tipping point, and eventually this site was born. I became the Frugalista of Japan: my savings fund grew to $5000 in one year, my impulse purchases stopped completely, and my life has never been so rich since…

Purchasing Value: The iPhone in Japan

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured-, Shopping | Posted on 01-04-2009

As I mentioned in a previous post on why 100 yen stores are not always the best choice, I am not adverse to spending money if I am getting value. For me, the iPhone represents an enormous amount of value, especially as a foreigner living in Japan, when compared to other mobile phones on the market. It has oft been touted that Japanese mobile phones are the best in the world, years ahead of their foreign competitors – but sorry, this just isn’t true anymore.

Previous Phones:

I’ve been with Softbank since I first came to Japan 6 years ago – for the simple reason that their models have always had their interface available in English. This is of course a huge boon for anyone new in Japan who hasn’t yet got the language down (good luck if you’re in that situation by the way, it took me 2 years before I finally felt like I could actually communicate competently). I can’t remember the exact models, because they were fairly bog-standard keitai that make phone calls and that’s about it. I believe they had calendar functions too – but since they didn’t sync with any of my computers I really couldn’t see the point in maintaining two separate calendars. Wouldn’t be great if my keitai could use my iCal as it’s data source? My last keitai had a TV too – I think I tried it once or twice, but the reception was horrendous and who wants to watch daytime J-TV anyway?! In short, they made calls and sent text messages. I never sent Japanese text messages though as typing in Kana on those models would require learning an entirely new keyboard. No thank you.

What value does my iPhone give me?

Easy Kana entry, Romaji style:

img_0004Essential for any foreigners who can’t be bothered trying to get used to the dingy and awkward keitai keyboards, the iPhone has a full size Qwerty with kana entry in Romaji, just the way you would enter it on a computer. Add in predictive text and full sentence Kanji changing and suddenly you’ll quite capable of mobile communication in Japanese! Wonderful!

All the news I could ever need:

img_0001Only minutes after we had moved in a few weeks ago, a woman came to our door trying to sell us a subscription to Yomiuri. I told here I read all my news on the internet and my iPhone, and she said I would be the death of the newspaper industry. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how true that was – newspapers simply don’t have a future in the digital age. Even the New York Times has calculated it would be cheaper for them to go entirely digital and give all their subscribers an Amazon Kindle than it is to continue printing on paper.

Rather than being fed a selection of news articles that are of no interest to me, I get all my news delivered to my iPhone RSS Reader from my personal selection of major new sites and personal blogs. I get job listings, news from home, news from Japan, new blog comments, cute lolcat pictures, political satire and my favourite web comics – I get whatever I want. Easy, simple, free.

GPS:

img_0005Oh sure, your keitai has GPS too does it? Do you know how to use it? Have you even attempted too – or not because it’s all in Japanese, runs slowly in Java and requires about 5 clicks to open it through some ridiculous application menu structure? Thought so… In one click, I can find out exactly where I currently am in Japan with the interface of google maps that I’m used to using on the computer anyway. I can search for another location easily in both Japanese and English, and get perfect directions there for either walking, by car/bike, or by public transport. For most place, I can even get a street-view of the place so I know exactly what to look out for when I get there. I have to honestly say that living in Japan and having my iPhone has made getting around so incredibly easy, even if all the other value added features disappeared it would be worth it for this alone.

Aside, it occurred to me the other day to wonder why taxi don’t all carry iPhones. We tried to order a taxi to take our friend from our place to the station last week, and after explaining our full address and postal code they still didn’t have any idea and actually wanted directions to the house. Was the biggest taxi company in Kyoto actually using a paper based out-dated map? Do they even know of the existence of Google Maps, because if they had it could have given them an exact and correct position with the address we gave, in seconds no less. I was truly shocked. I really wanted to say, “get a damn iPhone, you’re a total failure as a taxi company if you don’t know where stuff is!”. We eventually had to go outside and find the nearest apartment block with a name that was actually on their map. Update: For the first time in my life, a Japanese deliver man got angry with me this week because he couldn’t find our house. How much simpler would his life be if he had an iPhone?

The Internet. The REAL Internet:

img_0006Whoever thought of having to make a special separate version of the internet just for mobile phones should be shot. My students claim to use the internet on their keitai all the time, but what they’re actually using a minuscule subset of the real internet that has been pre-programmed into their bookmarks, and it frustrates me no end to tell them to visit a site for homework only have to have them say they couldn’t view it. The iPhone on the other hand does not need to view mobile internet pages because it can view normal internet pages, and the touch interface is such that navigating a regular size internet page is really rather intuitive and natural. The power of just being able to look up anything at your fingertips is pretty much un-describable… wait, no, I can describe it – it’s pretty damn cool.

Skype:

im_for_skypePrearranged to talk to your folks back home but can’t get back to your computer? No worries, just fire up Fring, an iPhone application that lets you talk (no video chat mind you) on Skype and numerous other chat and IM services. Update: Skype also now has an official client for the iPhone, which you might prefer if you only use it and don’t need the additional IM services that Fring offers. Frugally speaking, this means you can now make international calls at local rates using your Skype credit

Of course, they’re a ton more features I have even begin to touch upon – the fact that it’s the best iPod yet, the app store, integration with iCal and address book, the ability to fetch emails from your yahoo/gmail/regular mail accounts… frankly I don’t see how you can afford to live without an iPhone.

Rent a house, not an apartment – a cost comparison

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured-, Family Life | Posted on 31-03-2009

tinyapartmentApartments in Japan are ridiculously tiny and astronomically expensive. If you can afford to spare an extra 20,000 or 30,000 yen a month I really recommend you look into renting a house when your lease is next up. Initial moving-in costs like key money and deposit are similar to an apartment. If you can get a friend to move in with you you’ll find the cost per person is actually less per month than you were paying for a rat-cage apartment, only you get a whole lot more space – and if you’d rather live alone you’ll be paying only a little more for a lot more space.

The house may be a little older than a similar priced apartment, but a home is what you make of it. You may also find you have free parking with a house, so it’s definitely a cheaper option if you’re currently paying for a separate parking space like I have in the past. You’re unlikely to find a house in the central city area if that’s a big point for you; but you’ll also find life a few kilometres out of the centre is a lot more peaceful and relaxed.

Cost Comparison:

Here’s a breakdown of the situation for my current house and previous apartment to give you a ballpark idea.

Apartment:
Location – central Kyoto, 5 minutes from Hankyu Omiya station
Rent: ¥ 50,000 / month + ¥5,000 parking fee for motorbike
Deposit + key money: ¥ 150,000
Size: 8 mat main room, tiny kitchen/genkan area, low ceiling bed sized loft space for sleeping, small veranda.
Notes: annoying landlord lives next door; wall to next apartment very thin

My Current House:
Location – North Eastern Kyoto, 5 minutes from Demachiyanagi Keihan station. Next to Kamogawa river.
Rent: ¥ 65,000 / month
Deposit and key money: ¥ 200,000
Size: 10 mat bedroom, 8 mat bedroom, 10 mat living room, 8 mat kitchen, 8 mat low-ceiling loft for storage, separate bathroom and toilet, 3 verandas, parking space for one car (or many motorbikes!)

I’m currently living with my girlfriend who is still a university student, so the house is big enough for the both of us and I’m able to pay all the rent myself to save her some money towards tuition. We also currently have someone renting one room for a nominal amount of rent, and it doesn’t feel cramped at all. As for getting into the very centre of town, it only takes about 5 minutes longer than when I lived in the apartment due to Japan’s awesome public transport – and truth be told, there’s a lot more to do out of town than in!

Do you rent or own a house in Japan? Let me know in the comments about how much it cost you and much cooler it than the apartment you were crammed into when you first came to Japan! If your still living in an apartment, what’s holding you back? Is it big enough for you?

100 yen shops and the concept of value

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Posted by jamie | Posted in Shopping | Posted on 25-03-2009

value : relative worth, merit, or importance

In the world of 100 yen stores around every corner, it’s important that we take a moment to reiterate the meaning of value and to not be fooled into thinking cheaper is better. When I first came to Japan, I believed that 100 yen stores were quite possibly the greatest thing since sliced bread the iPod. How wrong I was. Now, I only purchase items of value.

The hook:

100 yen stores sell a few key items significantly cheaper than regular stores, and they lose money on them. These are designed to hook you in. Then they sell you lots of other items that are both lower in quantity and of a lower quality, and make their profit by selling you lots of them. You go in for a hook (literally), and come out with stationery, plastic bathroom and kitchen trays of all assorted sizes and random snacks. You just got mugged, mate.

Plastic fantastic:

Most 100 yen shop items are plastic, and are designed to be replaced in less than a few months. The amount of plastic trash in landfill sites and incernerators because of cheap and poor quality throw-away goods sold in these stores is simply overwhelming. Plastic also degrades faster than other materials so pretty soon it’ll be looking horrid – but who cares, you can just buy another one right?

If you didn’t know, I also help out with a removals service for foreigners leaving Japan – so I have first hand experience of what gets trashed first. The simple fact is that when it comes to selling stuff when you leave Japan, or even giving it away, no one will take the cheap used plastic stuff because they can just as easily buy their own for the same amount of effort. Real quality items though – those with value – can always be given away or sold easily.

100shop
Pay more, but get a greater value:

Having moved house at the weekend, we forgot to bring the little triangle thing you put in the sink to catch food scraps (what is that called?!) and our first thought was the 100 yen shop. However, I made the concious decision to instead buy a nice quality aluminium one from our local NIKKU hobby shop instead, for about 600 yen – 6 times as much as a horrible plastic one from the 100 yen shop! Why did I do this when the obvious frugal choice would have the 100 yen shop? Because it will last longer and will no doubt travel with us next time we move, it looks a lot nicer and matches the shiny new kitchen sink, and when it does eventually outlive it’s lifespan it will be easily recycled as scrap metal. Being frugal doesn’t mean purchasing cheap – it means purchasing value. I wish I had some actual statistic on how much chemicals I just saved from being released into the air when those cheapy plastic things are incinerated, but I don’t.

Please, please, think twice before you make your next 100 yen shop purchase. Is the item really something of value? Will it last more than a few months? Is it just an impulse buy? Does it seem too good to be true?

Get some wheels (part 1): K-Cars

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Posted by Daniel | Posted in -Featured-, Family Life, Trash | Posted on 13-03-2009

This is the first post from our new author Leon. Leon is a web developer and is raising a family in Japan, so he knows all too well the importance of frugality. Be sure to leave and comment, and if you’d like to hear more from Leon and I, then subscribe to the feed!


Being frugal about your transport in Japan takes a little knowledge. I prefer a motorbike for everyday use, but I also have a car for the family and transporting stuff around.

While you can pick up a late model car for a fraction of what it would cost you back home, you need to be aware of the fees structure here. A 5-door regular sedan will cost you upwards of ¥100,000 a year for registration, taxes and jibaiseki (mandatory 3rd party insurance).

A “k-car” or keijidousha on the other hand – which is any car with about 660cc of grunt – will only set you back a few man per year for the same.

It is usually easier to find a good price on a futsusha, regular sedan or bigger car. But when you factor in the increase in fuel, fees and parts costs, the total cost of ownership of a k-car will be significantly lower.

800px-suzuki_wagonr_2003

K-cars also get a discount when you use highways or toll roads. A ¥700 toll, for example would usually be ¥500 yen in a k-car (or 250cc motorbike!). Keep in mind though that k-cars are only allowed to carry 4 people at a time, including the driver for a combined weight of I think 200 – 350kgs.

When buying a car, I strongly encourage budding frugalistas to pay the extra for nihoken or 2nd level insurance. This is similar to fully comprehensive cover back home and there are various plans available. Why spend the extra money? The mandatory jibaiseki, which is illegal to drive without, only covers you up to ¥1,000,000. The minimum cost of damages just for hitting a jidouhanbaiki (a vending machine) is ¥5,000,000! You can imagine how many more lifetimes worth of pay-checks you will be paying if you injure a real person!

As with all frugal things and life in general: failing to plan is planning to fail.

Stay tuned for a follow up on 2-wheeled frugalistic fun!

(Re)Discovering Boardgames

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Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured- | Posted on 05-03-2009

Since coming to Japan a good friend introduced me to boardgames, more specifically to what is commonly known as designer boardgames, or eurogames – called such because they generally come from Europe and the game designers name is strongly associated with the game to extent of being printed boldly on the box. These boardgames are nothing like your typical chance-based family games such as Monopoly and Game of Life, where the outcome is decided almost 90% on the roll of dice; instead they are mostly strategy-based, and for that reason they tend to have a lot more depth and whole lot more replayability. They generally aren’t suitable for children due to the sometimes complex rule systems, but adults will get a lot more from these kinds of games. You can also get better at these games the more you play them, developing your strategies. These are games that will make you think!

How are Eurogames frugal?

Though Eurogames games are generally expensive (most are around 5,000~10,000円) you will find yourself playing them for a lifetime. They are an entertainment investment, and will reward you many times over compared to other forms of entertainment. Instead of going out for a night on the town and hitting up the local gaijin bar for an evening of complaining about the JET programme and your JTEs non-existant English ability, get some friends round and host a game night! You get all the benefits of going out (drink, socialising, and complaining if you really want) but it’s a whole lot cheaper and more rewarding in the long-run.

Anyway, let me introduce you to my top 3 eurogames…

Catan:

I strongly suggest Catan if you’ve never played a Eurogame before. It was the first game I ever played and has very simple rules. It has a good balance of chance and skill too, so it’s a great game for both new players and seasoned veterans. It is the most requested game at my house, and it’s great if you have a mix of English and Japanese speakers as there’s very little language-dependency on the cards etc. The basic version of the game is for 3-4 players.

Basic gameplay consists of collecting resources according to where you have placed your towns, then using those resources wisely to expand or upgrade your empire. The hexagonal board tiles are randomized each time you play, and the numbers on top of those tiles (also random) indicate when you can receive that particular resource. Each turn, a pair of dice are rolled – the sum of which shows which squares produce a resource that turn; any town built around the resource receives one of that resource type. The win condition is having a certain number of points; points are obtained by building towns, cities (upgraded towns) and the longest road. It’s a very simple game mechanic and there are numerous different strategies for winning. Trading between players is also a big aspect to the game.

Right now you can it looks at though you can buy the American version through Amazon Japan (though strangely the Japanese version has sold out) for 5,600円. I would suggest the American version anyway though, as there are expansion packs available for Catan that you might want to get at a later point which aren’t compatible with the Japanese version due to different tile sizes etc.

Carcassonne

carcassonne
Carcassonne is a little more complicated and probably something I would introduce to people after they’ve tried Catan. Gameplay consists of drawing a tile from the deck and connecting it to one already placed; the only chance element comes in with this drawing of a tile – there are no dice. Once you’ve placed your tile – be it a piece of road, a piece of castle, or a church – you then have the opportunity to “claim” that item by placing one of little men on it (technically they are called “meeples”, though I couldn’t tell you why). Finishing your road or castle will get you some points, and the player with the most points wins the end of the game. There’s no language-specific requirements at all (everything is graphical) so this is also a great game for mixed language sessions, assuming you can explain the game or print out the instructions in your language.

Also available through Amazon Japan.

Agricola

agricola

Up to 5 players, Agricola is a recent acquisition for me and quickly becoming one of my favourites. It is however pretty language intensive and I really recommend getting the English version either from Yahoo auctions or importing it from America. You will also need a large table to play on as there’s quite a lot of bits to this game, and a lot of time (the rules estimate about 30 minutes per player – assuming they know the basics).

The concept of the game is to build a farm during the harsh times of the middle ages. You score points for having a well built, productive and varied farm – with bonus points for card-based house improvements like an oven etc. Each round you choose one action per family member from a limited action choice. At the start of the game, you’re only real choices are which resources to gather – but every round a new action is revealed that you can choose. At a certain point, and assuming you have built enough rooms in your house, you are given the option of having children. Growing your family which means you get more actions each round, but come harvest time you have more mouths to feed. Again, the game outcome is based almost entirely on your choices – the only chance enters the game with the improvement and job cards you are dealt at the start (although these can be very powerful sometimes).

It’s also a great value game as there are 3 different decks of cards that are included (a total of 350!) of increasing complexity – so when you feel you’ve outgrown the easy deck and your players are experienced enough, you switch over to the “interactive” deck, the cards of which appropriatly deal bonuses to interactions of players and combinations of cards in play rather than basic improved resource gathering or simple bonuses.


If you fancy playing some of these games and you live in Kyoto city, drop me a line and we’ll try and get something organized. I have a small gaming group, but the pressures of work, studies, family and research projects mean we are always down a few players.