Review: Bookmooch, and my free breadmaker

After clearing out the cupboards over the holidays, I found myself with more than a few books to give away. Normally I’d just take them to BookOff, but a friend suggested It’s basically a free book exchange site. You list your books, and then people request them from you. Adding books is really easy as it all ties into Amazon’s database, so you get book covers too to check if you’ve got the right book and there’s no human error that usually breaks the search function.

I noticed while adding the books that some were already on people’s wishlists – so once you’ve added a book someone else wants they will automatically get an email telling them that one has become available. Then when a request is made, the system will tell you and you can go ahead and send it on. Each book you send gets you points, but a key point is that you have to pay the postage yourself. You can choose whether or not you’re willing to send internationally, and if you agree to do so you will get more points in return. Then you can use those points to get books that you want!

Sounds good in theory, and there’s a huge number of books listed specifically for Japan, but I still haven’t found anything to use my points on. Searching for a specific book is unlikely to yield results in Japan, and just browsing through all the books situated here gave me pages upon pages of Danielle Steele and other bad fiction. Sadly, the search function doesn’t let you narrow it down by GENRE and COUNTRY, and a quick search for “php” or “bread” books in Japan yielded zero results.

If I put the effort in to browse through all the books, i think I might find something – but then, I’d rather spend that time doing other things. You might want to give it a go though, if only for piece of mind that your books will actually be going to someone rather than sitting on the shelves of BookOff until they’re eventually recycled.

Why was I looking for “bread” books anyway though? Well, that’ll be because I recently got hold of a fantastic breadmaker for free from a lovely girl called Heidi in Osaka. Thanks Heidi! She posted a message to the FreeStuffJapan mailing list, and I snapped it up in no time. Since then I’ve been making a loaf or cake every day~

free bread maker

Buy a Mac to save money over time

As a computer geek since a young age, I’ve spent literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of yen over the years on computer equipment. I’ve spent the majority of my life dealing with Windows based Intel-PCs, from brand name pre-built laptops and tablets to custom built servers for myself; and more recently a lot of Apple Mac stuff. Anyone, even non-geeks, will know how quickly computer equipment depreciates over the course of just one year – that Windows computer you bought for ¥200,000 yen last year can’t even be bought new this year it’s so out of date, and if you try to sell it second hand you’ll likely to get less than ¥20,000 for it if you’re lucky – but then that’s the cost of cutting edge computing, we understand that. But the curious thing is, Apple computers don’t depreciate / devalue at the same rate of Windows PCs. Any of your standard windows PCs are going to be worth about 10-15% of the purchase price after 2 years; while Apple computers have historically still been valued at 35-50%, a huge difference in rate of depreciation.

Oh, really?
Yes. I suspect the main reason is a superior design – my Macbook Pro is now 3 years old, but it still runs fast due to less clutter over time than a Windows machine, and frankly it still looks damn nice. I paid ¥220,000 for it at the time, and a quick check on yahoo auctions shows the same model, used, selling for between ¥100,000 – ¥150,000. That’s after 3 years! For comparison, we recently tried to get rid of my fiance’s NEC laptop (built in TV, fantastic speakers, but just a little slow for my tastes and unneeded in our house) – ¥150,000 at the time, again about 3 years ago, but now selling for ¥20,000 on auctions! Shocking! It was probably an ugly computer at the time she bought it too, but can’t blame her for having a lack of style choice I guess. (I do blame her though)

The fact is that Macs depreciate slower than Windows PCs (regardless of the brand), so when the time comes to upgrade you’re going to have lost less of your investment if you purchased a Mac.

There’s also a product cycle guide for Apple products over at Mac Rumors – it gives you advice on whether to buy a Mac based on how into the product cycle it currently is, and how likely it is to be updated soon.

Disclaimer: I guess you could call me a Mac fanboy. I was a bona-fide Apple bashing Windows fan-boy until about 5 years ago, but then Apple released this little thing called OsX and it blew my mind away. Just saying. I’ve played with every OS out there from Irix to Windows Tablet Edition (bet you didn’t know either of those even existed), and Mac OsX is the best.

Getting free stuff from stickers on beer cans


If you live in Japan, you may have noticed that most beer cans have a little sticker on them that you can collect, stick on a special flyer along with your address and a 50 yen stamp, and be entered into a draw or just get something for free. It’s not just beer either, a lot of the products here run special point promotions that involve cutting out the labels or barcodes to get free stuff, you just need to look at the packaging a bit. If you tend to buy a certain product then check the manufacturers website for current campaigns / promotions, you’ll be surprised how many they usually run. Before I start, let’s do a quick poll on how many of you have actually bothered collecting these things before.

[poll id=”2″]

What can you get for free or win?

Varies. In the past, we’ve got a cool little shopping bag from Pasco bread stickers that we use everyday now; some small bowls from another random bread company I don’t remember; I’ve had a couple of crates of beer turning up on my doorstep; 1000 yen prepaid gas cards from Gillette… But the real horde is yet to come – since my girlfriend started working in a bar last month, she’s been bringing home beer can stickers every night and we’re sending out a couple a week! I’ll guess we’ll know if was all worth it in the coming months. I’ll be sure to post here with updates.

Filling in the form:

Here’s a breakdown of the form you’ll need to fill out for those of you lacking in . Writing in romaji is fine. I’ve noticed that not all supermarkets tend to stock these special campaign flyers, so you may need to shop around a little. For beer stickers, most liquor stores will stock every kind of flyer.


Don’t forget to stick a 50 yen stamp (be careful not to waste an 80 yen one like I have before) and post it off.

You may also need to fill in how many entries you want. The key kanji you’re looking for here is “mai” 枚 and “kuchi” 口. MAI is the number of stickers you need per KUCHI, or entry. So, choice A may be 「24枚1口」(24 sticker for one entry) and choice B might be「6枚1口」(6 stickers per entry). You need to do your own math and write down the number of entries on the postcard if you are able to enter more than once on one flyer.


This Asahi summer campaign has four different choices of competitions to enter. Each one has a different number of stickers for one entry. If you really really want one of the products, you can also pay an extortionate amount of real money AS WELL AS collect half the usual stamps and they’ll just assume you won, but that’s a little ridiculous – the point is to get free stuff here.


This is for Pasco bread products, it’s actually an old photo and as I mentioned earlier, we got a good quality sturdy “eco-bag” from this campaign that we use everyday now. We didn’t even have to send this one off – just take it to a participating supermarket.

Final word:

If you’re a fickle shopper like me who doesn’t mind changing brands of coffee or bread everytime there’s a new promotion, you can get some really cool stuff for free. The stickers on the beer cans are always worth collecting even if you don’t drink alot – the actual stickers don’t have an experiration date, but the flyer does, so keep them stuck on your fridge if you don’t think you will collect enough in time. It’s also quite inexpensive but effective anti-retail therapy for those of you who like to shop to relax!

Please let me know in the comments if you’ve ever won anything off of these kinds of promotions, I’ll be very disappointed if you none of you have even bothered. Free stuff people, come on!

Also, if you’d like to enter one of the promotions but you don’t understand part of the flyer, feel free to ask away in the comments or mail me a picture of it to [help] AT [] and I’ll see if I can clear something up for you.

Purchasing Value: The iPhone in Japan

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.


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.


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.

100 yen shops and the concept of value

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.

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?

Reader Tips

Reader Jonathan Allen has kindly sent in useful money-saving tips that might work for some of you. Let’s see what they are, and I’ll add my own advice onto them.

Jonathan says: Get loyalty cards – like T-club points, Subway stamp card for free sandwiches.
Jamie says: I have a ton of loyalty cards, but I never seem to shop anywhere enough times that it amounts to anything before the card expires. As for T-club points (Tsutaya, right?), I find I never need to rent movies as the university I work at has an AV-room that I can borrow subtitled DVDs from, and anything newer can be obtained rather speedily through the intertubes – more on how to do this securely and safely in an upcoming post. As for eating out at places like Subway; if you insist on going there, get their loyalty card for sure – but understand that the even more frugal option would be to make your own sandwich! The most useful points I have ever had are those from my credit card, which you can really rack-up if you start making regular investment payments through it and use it to pay for all your regular grocery shopping too.

Jonathan says: Get a commuter pass if you use LD Lines for your ferry rides. I save a bit on a monthly Suica pass for the Yamamote line.
Jamie says: Sound advice if you travel on public transport everyday and are having to pay out of your own pocket. My job pays for my travel though, so I’ve never looked into this kind of thing. In fact, I recieve money to travel by train everyday, but cycle instead. Not only does this save me money, it also gives me a little more to play with. The subway system where I am in Kyoto city has a special 1000 yen travel card that actually gives you 1100 yen worth of travel, but it can only be used on the city subway and not the JR or Hankyu lines. When I do travel by travel by train, I use a an electronic smart-card from JR that means I can skip the entire process of buying a ticket and just charge it up once a month. Although it doesn’t save me any money, it does save me time and headaches of working out how much a ticket to wherever is, and it works with every kind of smart-kind reader around Kansai (PiTaPa, ICOCA etc).


Jonathan says: shop locally, much cheaper than department stores for most things.
Jamie: agreed… However, I have to admit I prefer the homogeneousity of supermarkets over small mom-and-pop greengrocers and local stores. While I would in theory like to proactive in supporting the local community and their dying smaller businesses, I don’t like the hassle I get as a foreigner in local stores. I go shopping to get groceries, not to have a 30 minute interview about how long I’ve been in Japan, how jouzu my Japanese is, and how it’s amazing that I know how to cook with such a tradtional Japanese vegetable. Give me the daikon already! Some of you however may enjoy these random encounters, and may even find yourselves getting the odd free fruit and veg if you can develop a good enough rapport with the locals.

Jonathan says: If you read a newspaper, get a subscription – it’s inevitably cheaper than buying it everyday.
Jamie says: I would go one further and say stop buying a newspaper. If you have an internet connection, there is such a deluge of news sites, podcasts and RSS feeds that there really is no need to read a physical newspaper anymore. If you don’t know how to have news (be it text, audio or video) automatically delivered to your computer or iPhone, then stayed tuned as I’ll be writing a tutorial soon enough.

Jonathan says: Join the Tokyo freecycle group for free stuff.
Jamie says: For anyone outside of Tokyo, and especially in Kansai, I suggest my own site too @ – its free to register and super-easy to post something to give away or sell really cheaply! In fact I have a ton of free furniture listed to give away there right now, as I’ll be moving next month and see to have acquired rather a lot with gaijin moving in and out of our little house over the years. The problem I have with freecycle is that it’s done through yahoo groups, which I really don’t like. I don’t have a yahoo account, and I don’t want one, and I don’t want hundreds of emails in my inbox from the list everday or have to wade through in a “everything in one mail” thing. This is what RSS feeds were invented for, and I wish the admins of the great FreeCycle would acknowledge a better system when one exists. I have tried applying to create a FreeCycle group for my local area here in Kyoto, but they refused to acknowledge it if it wasn’t through Yahoo groups!

Thanks again Jonathan, and be sure to check out his blog at! Be sure to send in your tips too~

Foreign Food – The Japan Blog Matsuri

As a proud member of the JapanSoc (a wonderful social networking community for bloggers in Japan), here’s my entry for the February Japan Blog Matsuri, on the entirely unfrugal topic of foreign food.

To put it rather bluntly, if you’re at all serious about your new found frugality – as indeed I am – you need the stay the hell away from foreign food stores. The kind that beckon you in with their sweet smells of home, their thick bars of real Cadburys chocolate and stacks of various pasta sauces from all over the world, not just the homogenous “meat sauce” you find in Japanese supermarkets. But you must be strong, fight the urge.

Firstly, you should consider the amount of fossil fuels it took to bring that food all the way to Japan – can you really justify that kind of environmental damage so you can have a taste of home? Yes? Well – that’s your choice, but then at least bookmark this carbon offset click site and go there daily.

And if you didn’t know already, foreign food is hideously overpriced. Maybe the stores can justify their price with shipping charges and cute part-timers to pack your 1-inch block of cheese with worthless chemical ice-alike-blocks into high quality paper bags; but I can’t. Now we have to pay extra to destroy the environment? Thanks for the priviledge, but what gives – destroying the environment used to be free! You can achieve the same financial damage on your credit card while shopping for one meal worth of over-priced imported foreign food stuffs as you can a whole weeks worth of using locally grown vegetables and Japanese meat.

So what am I trying to say here? If you really want the taste of home, spend the time to make it yourself using locally produced ingredients. Personally, I’m partial to a bit of Chinese egg-fried rice to really make me feel like I’m back in ol’ Blighty 😉

Buying Second-Hand

As a child, I used to have serious issues with second-hand things. The society I was brought up in was all about shopping for shiny new plastic wrapped things. It has actually taken me a long time to remove the mental stigma of second-hand goods being somehow dirty or of lesser quality, but I’m so glad now that I have.

Having said that, living in Japan gives us quite a different second-hand purchasing experience than we might have back home. Garage sales and thrift / charity stores? Forget it. The Japanese market has absolute no use for second hand goods unless they look absolutely new. The second hand stores here in Japan (also called recycle-shops) are actually rather strict with what they will and won’t take. Of course, this also means you can expect better quality (and higher prices) for second hand items than you might back home.

For those of you without great Japanese, the sign you are looking for is 中古 or リサイクル. Search for either of these terms on google maps (just copy and paste the Japanese once you’ve zoomed in) for your local area and I’m sure quite a few will come up. Don’t bother hunting around for lost treasures – recycle shops generally hold clothes, appliances and maybe have a poster board with furniture from their warehouse. They may also hold brand goods like handbags etc, but they certainly don’t have antique bargains of any sort.

Do you enjoy second hand shopping in your local recycle shops? Found any bargains? How much of your worldly possessions in Japan are second hand?

Micro Loan Update: We’re currently at just 4 subscribers, quite a way off from the target of 50 for the initial $25 micro-loan. Please subscribe to the feed to add your $.50 to my loan pledge!

Super Affordable Food at Gyomu Super

“Gyomu Supa” is an incredibly cheap bulk-buy discount food store designed for businesses rather than home consumers, but there’s nothing to stop you shopping there. I’ve heard some people say they don’t like Gyomu because the food is poor quality, but I’m sure they’re mainly referring to the frozen meat. The fact is that frozen anything is worse than fresh, so let’s just ignore that and look at what else you can get there. Other than the frozen foods, they also have a good selection of fresh vegetables and various spices and sauces.


Though I would never do my weekly shopping at Gyomu and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you do either, I do go there specifically to buy a couple of items in bulk maybe once a month. Namely: tinned whole and cut tomatoes for about ¥100 (perfect for making a quick pasta sauce or chilli-con-carne); also a 1kg bag of real Italian Fusilli for only ¥300 – bargain; and finally a pack or two of frozen pizza bases (I forget the cost now, but I think it’s around 50 yen for a small pizza base). Gyomu also happens to be the only place in Japan I have ever found real hotdog buns – I’d say the trip is worth if for those alone! Every 6 months or so we end up getting a big bag of those little chopped up dried red peppers – can’t think what they’re actually called, but they really add a kick of hot goodness, especially sprinkled on pizzas. Since my girlfriend is Chinese, she likes the range of random Chinese sauces and cooking ingredients – I have no idea what they are though, to be honest. While I’m there, I also pick up some button mushrooms for about half the price of our local supermarket. Of course, what’s cheaper for you will vary, but shopping smart and knowing what you can purchase in bulk will save you quite a lot.

Find your local area on Google Maps, then enter this search term to find your nearest store (copy and paste the Japanese): 業務スーパー