Archive for Trends

Buying a flat-panel TV in Japan

Last Nov. 2010 was a buying frenzy for TVs in Japan. Electrical appliance stores sure made a killing with so many customers every day until Nov. 30, 2010.

I was one of them, and in late Nov. 2010, I waited behind 30 people for about an hour to get hold of a salesman at my local Yodobashi Camera store, a large camera/electronics retailer in Japan. Even if you had already decided which model to buy and just wanted to fork over the cash to buy it, you had to wait.

The buying frenzy was caused by the Dec. 1, 2010 deadline imposed by the Japanese government when its Eco-point system would be dramatically revised. The Eco (i.e. Ecology) point system is a governmental reimbursement program for purchases of TVs, refrigerators, and air conditioners. Buy any of these products and you will receive Eco-points which can be exchanged for gift certificates or other cash-equivalent things. One Eco-point is worth 1 yen.

How many Eco-points you receive depends on the model and energy efficiency (rated from 1 to 5 stars) of the product. The program is to encourage people to buy more energy-efficient and environment-friendly appliances and switch to digital TVs in preparation for Japan’s switchover to all-digital TV broadcasting in July 2011.

I bought an air conditioner in summer 2010 for around 100,000 yen and received 6,000 Eco-points. In late Nov. 2010, I bought a 32-inch LED TV for 83,000 yen (before discounts) and received 12,000 Eco-points. If I bought the same TV after Nov. 30, 2010, I would receive only 6,000 Eco-points. From Dec. 1, 2010, the number of Eco-points would be halved. And that caused Japan’s TV buying frenzy in Nov. 2010. I also received 3,000 Eco-points to reimburse the recycling fee I had to pay to dispose of my old TV when the new TV arrived. (The man who delivered my new TV also took away my old TV.)

To convert your Eco-points into a gift certificate accepted at most stores in Japan, you have to send to the Japanese government an application form and include the receipt and a copy of the product warranty. Your dealer can help you with that. Then a few months later, you will receive a postcard which you take to your dealer to exchange it for gift certificates (usually 1000 yen denominations).

I waited till the last minute to buy a new TV because I could not decide on which brand/model to buy. I also thought that I should hold out for newer and better models. I was actually planning to buy a TV in June 2011, but the announcement of the Eco-points being halved after Dec. 1, 2010 spurred me and many others here to buy a new TV now.

So after you decide to buy a new TV, you have to decide which one to buy. Japan has so many famous brands and none of them have a compelling reason for you to go with that one instead of another. The Big Four TV brands in Japan are Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba. There are other makers like Mitsubishi and Hitachi, but they occupy way less shelf space in stores. Unlike in the US, Samsung TVs are nowhere to be found in Japan.

Sharp is especially popular due to their fine reputation for flat-panel displays. Their Aquos brand is associated with high-quality displays in both TVs and cell phones. The problem was, I would have had to wait 2 or 3 months for the Sharp TV to arrive. Order in Nov. and arrives in Feb. I couldn’t wait that long so I went with another brand.

You can look at a Sharp TV and compare it to a comparable model of another brand, but can hardly tell the difference. I looked at all the TVs on display and could not say which looked better. This led me to conclude that on a practical level, the brand didn’t really matter much unless you’re a fan of a particular brand.

So I have no advice as far as the brand is concerned. But I noticed that certain brands and models are discounted more than others. My particular TV had a 20% discount which was more than the usual 13% or 15% discount. Certain models also have a better value for the price, and my TV was one of them. Before I bought my TV, I bought a Japanese magazine which reviewed all the TVs on the market. That really helped me to compare features and prices. The magazine also identified the TVs offering the best value for the price. Another way to choose a brand is to consider other products you might want to buy, such as a camcorder or DVR/Blu-ray recorder. Sticking with the same brand for all your video equipment usually makes things easier.

Also, LED TVs seem to be coming to fore, instead of non-LED TVs. The newest LCD TVs all seem to be LED models. Customers know that LED consumes less energy, provide a brighter picture, and have a thinner profile. And from what I’ve seen, the price difference between LED and non-LED models is not much. Get an LED TV.

One of the first things you have to decide is the screen size. Basically, the bigger the better. Most TV reviewers say that the minimum should be 32 inches for a living room. Having a 32-in. TV myself, I tend to agree. Although I think a 40-in. screen would make TV viewing a lot more pleasant if you have the room and cash to get one. If you have a six-mat room, a 32-in. TV would fit the bill, but you might still wish for a bigger TV. Interesting how the TV looks smaller in your house than when you saw it in the store.

Next, you have to decide on the features. I noticed the following types of feature sets in the latest TVs:

1. TV with no recording function.
2. TV with recording function using a built-in hard disk only.
3. TV with recording function using a built-in Blu-ray drive only.
4. TV with recording function using an external hard drive(s).
5. TV with recording function using a built-in hard disk and Blu-ray drive.

Before you decide on the feature set, you have to think about whether you will also buy a DVR/BD-R deck which can cost as much as or more than your TV. If you already have a DVR or plan to buy one, then get a TV with no recording function. Those models are really cheap and a good deal. You might think that it might be cheaper to buy a TV with a built-in HDD and BD-R than to buy a DVR/BD-R deck separately. Not really. TV makers want you to buy a separate DVR/BD-R deck so TVs with a built-in HDD and Blu-ray recorder will cost about the same as a basic TV plus a separate HDD/BD-R deck.

If you don’t have or don’t plan to get a separate DVR/BD-R deck, then you would want a TV with a recording function. One thing you have to understand about TVs recording to a built-in or external hard drive is that, the recorded programs can only be played back on that TV. You cannot connect the external HDD to another TV (even if it’s the same model) and playback the recorded programs. And if you want to copy a recorded program to a disk (DVD or Blu-ray), you will have to connect a separate DVR/BD-R deck (or your personal computer) to the TV’s outputs and playback the recorded program to record to a disk.

The TV’s external HDD is also incompatible with personal computers. If you connect the TV’s HDD to a computer, you will have to reformat it and wipe out the contents before it will be compatible with your computer. And vice versa, your computer’s HDD will have to be formatted especially for the TV to make it compatible with the TV. Whatever data you have on the HDD will be lost. I notice that hard drives sold in stores have labels like “Compatible with Toshiba Regza TVs,” implying that only certain HDDs are compatible with TVs. Well, my old HDD that I used with my Mac is perfectly compatible with my TV.

If your TV only has a Blu-ray recorder, you will need to insert a Blu-ray disk each time you want to record something. A standard Blu-ray disk holds 25 GB of data which is not much if you plan to record a lot of programs while on vacation. Built-in HDDs are usually at least 250 GB. An external HDD can be a lot larger. So if you want a TV with recording function, I would recommend recording to an external HDD unless you really want Blu-ray.

The problem with Blu-ray is that it’s still not widespread. I don’t really have friends/relatives who have a Blu-ray recorder or player. DVDs are still much more common here in Japan. Blu-ray is not gonna take off until it’s introduced in personal computers (i.e. Mac). They also have to make BD-R decks cheaper, on par with VHS tape decks. It’s still too expensive even though the price of a standard 25GB Blu-ray disk is now less than 200 yen. It’s a shame because Blu-ray does have definite advantages over DVDs which I find to be too small for high-definition videos. The slow spread of Blu-ray is a far cry from the quick adoption of CDs and DVDs by consumers.

As I shopped for a TV in Tokyo, I was amused by the weird product names that they all use. Like Bravia (a mistake for bravado?), Viera (related to Spanish name Vierra?), Regza (reggae music?), and Aquos. Aquos is Sharp’s well-known brand because it is also used in Sharp’s cell phone screens. It sounds nice, but I always wondered why they made it sound so similar to “aqua.” There’s no water involved. Not only that, the actual product designations like TH-L32R2 , LC-32DX3, LC-32DR3, etc., are just impossible to remember.

What happened to names like Sony Trinitron? (The name of my old TV.) That was a good-sounding name, easy to remember, and it was related to the actual technology behind it. Wish they could create names like that again. But then, the Japanese are notorious for creating and using strange or mistaken or laughable English.

LED lightbulbs cost 2200 yen to 4900 yen each.

Another thing about Eco-points I should mention is that at Yodobashi Camera, you can double the value of your Eco-points if you use them to buy LED lightbulbs or rechargeable batteries. That’s what I did. I used 9,000 Eco-points, normally worth 9,000 yen, to buy 18,000 yen worth of LED lightbulbs. But you have to do this transaction before you send in your Eco-point application to the government. Go to Yodobashi with the Eco-point application form, receipt, and warranty and tell them that you want to use some (or all) your Eco-points to buy LED lightbulbs or rechargeable batteries. They will process your Eco-points and you can take home the LED lightbulbs on the spot. If you still have any Eco-points remaining, you can rewrite your application to reflect the lower number of Eco-points and send it in. Your dealer can help you with this.

My new TV arrived about a month after I ordered it in Nov. 2010. A one-month wait was tolerable, and it was just in time for me to record a TV series starting in early Jan. 2011. If you’ve never bought a flat-panel TV before, you might be surprised when you first turn it on. There’s no picture. You instead see on-screen instructions to first set up your TV. It’s simple enough, but you will have to be able to read Japanese. You have to select the region where you will use the TV, enter even your postal zip code, etc. After the setup is done and the TV picture appears, you feel relieved and happy that you’re finally entering the digital age.

I’m impressed by the picture quality compared to my old standard-definition TV, but skin tones still look a little too artificial/electronic and maybe too pink at times. But the human eye is quite forgiving and I know that I won’t mind it so much. I like the on-screen TV schedule display which I can use to program the TV to record programs. (Of course, you have to read Japanese to read the TV schedule.) I also love the picture quality of the recorded programs. They look the same as the actual program. Unlike videotapes which always degraded the picture quality. The TV’s sound quality was quite chintzy out of the box, but fortunately the bass/treble could be adjusted and it now sounds good enough without me having to buy external speakers. Another great thing is that the slim TV frees up a lot of space in front of it, previously occupied by the big CRT. Well, after putting it off for so long, I’m glad that my TV hunt is finally over.

Cell phone decoration

Spotted this camera phone while I was watching a festival in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture. It’s not a clamshell type phone. The top slides upward to reveal numeric keys underneath. Such extreme decoration wouldn’t work on a clamshell phone.

I bet she had it done professionally.

New Year’s less special

Well, another New Year’s has come and almost gone. It’s kind of sad to note that New Year’s in Japan is different from before. It is not as special as before, like maybe 20 or 30 years ago.

Here are my then-and-now comparisons:

– New Year’s was the Japan’s biggest holiday and national observance. Most shops and businesses closed for almost a week during the year end and New Year’s. We had to stock up on food before the holiday started or face holiday  starvation. Now, most stores are open throughout the New Year’s holidays, not to mention the ubiquitous 365/24/7 convenience stores.

–  Nengajo or New Year’s postcards was once all handwritten before the advent of inkjet printers. People practiced their finest calligraphy with sumi ink and a brush when writing the addressee’s name and address. Today, few people use a brush to write nengajo. And many use inkjet printers.

– The news has reported that fewer nengajo are being sent. Many are sending New Year’s greetings electronically via email (including cell phone text messages). Many people also think of writing and sending nengajo a big chore.

– Much fewer people wear kimono when going to pray at shrines during New Year’s (hatsumode). It’s quite rare to find kimono-clad women even on New Year’s Day at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine.

– NHK TV’s Kohaku Utagassen Red and White Song Contest aired on New Year’s Eve continues to draw fewer viewers. It is no longer a “must-watch” program (for those of us in Japan anyway).

These trends make New Year’s feel less special, and it’s sad to see another special thing gradually becoming just ordinary.

mixi, Japan’s largest SNS

I finally joined http//mixi.jp in Sept. 2006 just to see what the fuss was about. It just had an IPO, making the founders millionaires/billionaires.

mixi is a social networking site (SNS) all in Japanese. If you don’t know what an SNS is, Google it and find out. The most famous one outside Japan is myspace.com.

It is free to join mixi which currently has over 5 million members. This is small compared to myspace, but for Japan it is huge. And it’s a closed system, which means you cannot access it unless you are a member. To become a member, you must receive an email invitation from a current member. mixi says that current members can only invite people whom they know personally, and not random strangers like you sending requests for an invitation after reading about it at a BBS. Members must also be at least age 18. However, I don’t see any way how mixi can enforce such rules.

When you join, you have to decide on a nickname. It’s interesting that your nickname need not be unqiue. There are multiple people with the same mixi nicknames, which can make things confusing.

When you agree to the terms of service, you receive your own profile page and URL. This is where you can set and enter your profile. As little or as much personal info as you want. A small profile image is also displayed. You have to upload your own profile image (up to 3).

When people want to know more about you, they will access your profile page. And when they do so, they leave an automatic “footprint” (ashiato) or a record of their visit. You can see this footprint or profile access log. It shows who came to see your profile and when. It logs the number of visitors to your profile page as well. So whenever you access someone’s profile page, that person will know that you’ve been there. Such a thing cannot happen at myspace since it is an open system where non-members can view profile pages.

Besides your profile page which is accessible by mixi members, you also have your own personal home/top page. This is accessible only by you. When you are logged in, your home/top page is where you can see messages from other members and messages posted at the communities you’ve joined (more about this later). There is also a box showing graphic icon links to your mixi friends (called “my mixi”) and another box showing graphic icon links to the communities you’ve joined.

If you can read Japanese, you will find the layout and controls, buttons, etc., simple and quite easy to use. You don’t have to read the manual to learn how to use mixi. It’s quite intuitive and quick to learn.

But what will eat away your hours (or days) are the numerous communities which are special interest groups much like Yahoo Groups. First you will want to browse and search to see what’s there. You will soon find out that there is a LOT. Quite overwhelming. There are communities for almost everything.

There are communities for every prefecture, city, town, and village in Japan. And many neighborhoods also have a community. Almost all the primary, junior, and high schools have a community. All the universities have one, as well as their sports clubs and teams.

There seems to be a community for almost all the train and subway stations (and lines) in Japan. They talk about new shops or restaurants which opened near their station, etc., etc. There may even be a community for your local pool, gym, and shopping arcade. The communities also sometimes hold offline meetings (called “off-kai” in Japanese) for face-to-face parties.

It’s incredible. Although the largest communities are quite active with frequent posts, many others are pretty inactive with few posts even with hundreds of members. So you should look at the past posts and see how active the community is. If it is too active, your mailbox will be jammed with messages every day.

Any mixi member can start and join a community. A community is essentially a BBS. Member can post messages which will appear on the community’s Web page as well as on the home page of all the members. Communities can also be public where any mixi member can join or private where approval is required to join.

Many members tend to join numerous communities, making it impossible to keep up with all the messages. However, your message inbox can be expanded or contracted so it doesn’t mess up your home page layout. Instead of joining all the communities I’m interested in, I just bookmark them instead. I join only the most favorite communities.

Having a lot of mixi friends is another ego trip among many members (like at myspace.com). Anybody you invite to join mixi automatically becomes your mixi friend. And anybody who wants to be your friend will send a message and ask you first. You can then either accept or reject the request. Having a lot of friends looks good on your profile page, but it will only increase the number of messages in your inbox. The latest blog entries of all your friends will appear in your inbox. But this is manageable since it does not affect the page layout unless you expand the message list. It will just make it harder to find the most important messages.

Although mixi is free to join, they also offer a “Premium” account for only 315 yen/month. The biggest advantage of this is that you can create your own online photo albums. Your home page will show a box listing your photo albums. And you will also see a “Make photo album” button on your home page. Your photo albums can occupy up to 1 GB of server space. It has a commenting system as well. Your blog will also have 300 MB of space instead of 100 MB. And your mailbox messages will be saved permanently instead of being deleted automatically after 60 days.

The demographics of mixi members seem to average in the low and mid-20s. I have come across many college-age people and many of the communities have been started by college students.

The vast majority of communities are run by amateurs or unofficial people. I don’t see mixi communities run by local governments or government agencies and organizations. mixi is really becoming like a second Internet in Japan. There are so many people on it that I don’t think local governments and other official people can keep ignoring it. Of course, it took a long time for many local governments just to make their own official Web sites. So I’m wondering how long it will take them to join mixi. I think they would really miss out if they don’t have a presence on mixi. Perhaps they hesitate because mixi is a private company. But then, all the utilities in Japan are provided by private companies. So it shouldn’t be an issue.

I think the bottleneck is that it is a closed system. Non-members cannot see what the fuss is about. They cannot see how much information is there, the incredible diversity, the community spirit, and the huge numbers, and the opportunities and benefits of the site. People who don’t know remain ignorant. I see no reason why it should be a closed system. They should let anybody access and view mixi pages, but only allow members to have a profile page, join communities, and post messages. With a larger audience, the ad revenue would increase, and more people will be enticed to join. I really hope that they decide to open it.

I have also noticed a substantial foreign segment at mixi. Many are outside Japan (many Japanese members are also outside japan). There are a few English communities so they can thrive there if they cannot read/write Japanese. I would think mixi would someday at least provide an English translation of their Terms of Service and other basic info.

I have to conclude that mixi is great. If you are a member, you can find me by searching for philbert or PhotoGuide Japan.

Note that I do not send mixi invitations to strangers. And keep in mind that everything is in Japanese.

Joined mixi, Japan’s largest SNS

I finally joined mixi.jp a few days ago just to see what the fuss was about. It just had an IPO, making the founders millionaires/billionaires.

mixi is a social networking site (SNS) all in Japanese. If you don’t know what an SNS is, Google it and find out. The most famous one outside Japan is myspace.com.

It is free to join mixi which currently has over 5 million members. This is small compared to myspace, but for Japan it is huge. And it’s a closed system, which means you cannot access it unless you are a member. To become a member, you must receive an email invitation from a current member. mixi says that current members can only invite people whom they know personally, and not random strangers like you sending requests for an invitation after reading about it at a BBS. Members must also be at least age 18. However, I don’t see any way how mixi can enforce such rules.

When you join, you have to decide on a nickname. It’s interesting that your nickname need not be unqiue. There are multiple people with the same mixi nicknames, which can make things confusing.

When you agree to the terms of service, you receive your own profile page and URL. This is where you can set and enter your profile. As little or as much personal info as you want. A small profile image is also displayed. You have to upload your own profile image (up to 3).

When people want to know more about you, they will access your profile page. And when they do so, they leave an automatic “footprint” (ashiato) or a record of their visit. You can see this footprint or profile access log. It shows who came to see your profile and when. It logs the number of visitors to your profile page as well. So whenever you access someone’s profile page, that person will know that you’ve been there. Such a thing cannot happen at myspace since it is an open system where non-members can view profile pages.

Besides your profile page which is accessible by mixi members, you also have your own personal home/top page. This is accessible only by you. When you are logged in, your home/top page is where you can see messages from other members and messages posted at the communities you’ve joined (more about this later). There is also a box showing graphic icon links to your mixi friends (called “my mixi”) and another box showing graphic icon links to the communities you’ve joined.

If you can read Japanese, you will find the layout and controls, buttons, etc., simple and quite easy to use. You don’t have to read the manual to learn how to use mixi. It’s quite intuitive and quick to learn.

But what will eat away your hours (or days) are the numerous communities which are special interest groups much like Yahoo Groups. First you will want to browse and search to see what’s there. You will soon find out that there is a LOT. Quite overwhelming. There are communities for almost everything.

Photography-related communities are also extremely numerous. It took me hours on end to browse through them. Some of them are very similar in concept, so it’s hard to decide which to join. For example, there are two communities for the same camera. The EOS Kiss Digital X (400D/XTi). They were created on the same day by two different people. There is a community for all major camera makers and camera models. There are communities for many famous Japanese photographers like Araki, Daido, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. There are communities for models looking for photographers, and vice versa.

There are communities for every prefecture, city, town, and village in Japan. And many neighborhoods also have a community. Almost all the primary, junior, and high schools have a community. All the universities have one, as well as their sports clubs and teams.

There seems to be a community for almost all the train and subway stations (and lines) in Japan. They talk about new shops or restaurants which opened near their station, etc., etc. There may even be a community for your local pool, gym, and shopping arcade. The communities also sometimes hold offline meetings (called “off-kai” in Japanese) for face-to-face parties.

It’s incredible.

Any mixi member can start and join a community. A community is essentially a BBS. Member can post messages which will appear on the community’s Web page as well as on the home page of all the members. Communities can also be public where any mixi member can join or private where approval is required to join.

Many members tend to join numerous communities, making it impossible to keep up with all the messages. However, your message inbox can be expanded or contracted so it doesn’t mess up your home page layout. Instead of joining all the communities I’m interested in, I just bookmark them instead. I join only the most favorite communities.

Having a lot of mixi friends is another ego trip among many members (like at myspace.com). Anybody you invite to join mixi automatically becomes your mixi friend. And anybody who wants to be your friend will send a message and ask you first. You can then either accept or reject the request. Having a lot of friends looks good on your profile page, but it will only increase the number of messages in your inbox. The latest blog entries of all your friends will appear in your inbox. But this is manageable since it does not affect the page layout unless you expand the message list. It will just make it harder to find the most important messages.

Although mixi is free to join, they also offer a “Premium” account for only 315 yen/month. The biggest advantage of this is that you can create your own online photo albums. Your home page will show a box listing your photo albums. And you will also see a “Make photo album” button on your home page. Your photo albums can occupy up to 1 GB of server space. It has a commenting system as well. Your blog will also have 300 MB of space instead of 100 MB. And your mailbox messages will be saved permanently instead of being deleted automatically after 60 days.

The demographics of mixi members seem to average in the low and mid-20s. I have come across many college-age people and many of the communities have been started by college students.

The vast majority of communities are run by amateurs or unofficial people. I don’t see mixi communities run by local governments or government agencies and organizations. mixi is really becoming like a second Internet in Japan. There are so many people on it that I don’t think local governments and other official people can keep ignoring it. Of course, it took a long time for many local governments just to make their own official Web sites. So I’m wondering how long it will take them to join mixi. I think they would really miss out if they don’t have a presence on mixi. Perhaps they hesitate because mixi is a private company. But then, all the utilities in Japan are provided by private companies. So it shouldn’t be an issue.

I think the bottleneck is that it is a closed system. Non-members cannot see what the fuss is about. They cannot see how much information is there, the incredible diversity, the community spirit, and the huge numbers, and the opportunities and benefits of the site. People who don’t know remain ignorant. I see no reason why it should be a closed system. They should let anybody access and view mixi pages, but only allow members to have a profile page, join communities, and post messages. With a larger audience, the ad revenue would increase, and more people will be enticed to join. I really hope that they decide to open it.

I have also noticed a substantial foreign segment at mixi. Many are outside Japan (many Japanese members are also outside japan). There are a few English communities so they can thrive there if they cannot read/write Japanese. I would think mixi would someday at least provide an English translation of their Terms of Service and other basic info.

I have to conclude that mixi is great. If you are a member, you can find me by searching for philbert or PhotoGuide Japan. However, I’m not active in the photo communities. I have a different agenda at mixi. If you know me personally and want to join, let me know.

Sorry, but I won’t be accepting invitation requests from strangers.

Japanese newspapers online

About a year ago, I stopped subscribing to newspapers. I found myself reading the news online more than on paper. Once upon a time, I subscribed to both an English and Japanese daily newspaper in Japan. Needless to say, the stack of old newspapers piled up very quickly. Especially in the case of Japanese newspapers which include many advertising inserts.

I made it a habit to give the old newspaper to paper recyclers who sometimes came by. It was quite troublesome to haul all that paper to their truck. Now it’s more convenient in Tokyo where there is a weekly pickup for old paper, cans, bottles, and plastic bottles.

Being able to read the news online from all over the world is really a godsend for those of us living faraway from our original hometown. Before the Internet, I sometimes went to the Hawaii Visitors Bureau in Tokyo to read the local newspaper that they had there. One of the staff there had an international subscription (prohibitively expensive). I asked what they do with the old newspapers. They just discarded it, so I asked if I could take them home to read. Sure thing, so I took home a stack of Honolulu newspapers whenever I could. But this didn’t continue for long since the newspapers were heavy to carry home and I could not go to HVB that often.

That’s the way it was before the Internet. It was near impossible to keep up with the news back home.

Those of you interested in Japan but live outside of Japan would know how great it is to read the online version of Japan’s English newspapers. There’s The Japan Times, the Mainichi Daily News, Asahi.com, the Daily Yomiuri, and others. I usually read the Japan Times and the Mainichi Daily News. The Asahi and Yomiuri are almost the same in content and format. What prevents me from reading the Asahi regularly is that half or more of the screen’s area (depending on how wide your browser window is) is covered with ads.

The Japanese version of Asahi.com is great though. It includes a news page for all 47 prefectures of Japan. If you can read Japanese, you can keep up with the local news of your favorite prefecture.

Yomiuri does not have any features which interest me on a daily basis. A feature called “Lens on Japan” is good, but it’s not a daily thing.

I read the Japan Times mainly because it is based in Tokyo where I live. But I don’t like their online page design and format which is just too cluttered. For those of us who access the page every day, it is difficult to recognize which topics are current and which are old (by a few days). They should append the date to each topic. My favorite page at JT is the monthly Festivals notice page. The only problem is that they update that page around the 1st of the month. If there’s a festival on that day or weekend, it might be too late for us to know about it. They should update the page slightly before the end of the month. I was glad to stop subscribing to the paper version of JT which costs 3,900 yen/month (or 150 yen/copy). This is comparable to how much I pay for Internet access.

The Mainichi Daily News has a very different page layout from JT and all the others. In fact I think it has the best page layout out of all the online English newspapers in Japan. It is uncluttered and easy to read and understand, and there’s a minimum of ads.

One problem is that they often mix serious news with tabloid gossip, so it can be difficult to recognize which are the day’s top stories. The headlines are also often lurid, sexually suggestive, or somewhat sensational. They do have a section covering tabloid gossip. So if you like gossip, read the Mainichi. One good feature is their photo specials. They have a number of photo albums showing a good number of pictures of various people and events. The Mainichi is apparently also more online-oriented than the Japan Times. For example, after Shizuka Arakawa won the gold medal in figure skating, the story appeared online in English at the Mainichi site within 30 min. Whereas the Japan Times seems to update their site only once a day, and we had to wait the next day to read about it.

One disadvantage of reading newspapers online compared to on paper, is that we lose the context of how important the article is. On a paper newspaper, we can immediately see which news is most important by seeing which articles are on the front page and seeing their position on the page. We can also see how big the headline is and how much space is devoted to the article. This is more difficult to discern online.

The days when I used to sit outside on my balcony under the warm sun while having breakfast with a paper newspaper before my eyes are now long gone. It’s now breakfast in front of my computer while reading email and the news online. Paper newspapers are still great to read in the train or plane though.