Hard up

I don’t know if people watch the news a lot, but apparently there is some kind of global financial meltdown occurring. Not being a financial type I’ve done my bit by studying the crisis; reading a lot, listening to informative podcasts, like the occasional This American Life finance special and the Mark Thomas interviews, and, generally, trying to be informed. From what I gather Japan is mostly feeling the pinch in the sharp decline of exports, and the loss of consumer spending, though the latter has been in effect for a few decades now. House prices and mortgages don’t seem to play a huge part here, as the value is in the land in this earthquake-overdue country, with houses making up only a tiny fraction of the loan. Banks, too, seem far more conservative in Japan, with less emphasis on lending you what you cannot afford to pay back and more on the squeezing of blood out of stone, charging for every tiny transaction and offering interests so small they fall under quantum mechanics

No, I am not quite sure what is happening, and it appears that, yes, consumer spending may be down, but one has to look hard and in the right places to see much evidence of this. Personally, I go by the entirely unscientific method of checking what’s going down at Hard Off, the hilariously named sister-shop to Book Off, the second hand book, games and, in the case of the former, bric-a-brac chainstore. It is the omnipresent second-hand shop around Japan, though smaller, privately owned “recycle” shops are also quite common in certain areas.

In times of great cleansing or economic depression it’s always good to drop by a Hard Off and see what people are trying to get rid off to make a little extra coin. Like most second-hand stores around the world, though, the mark-up when your refuse is put on the shelves is several thousand percent. However, with “large rubbish” special pick-ups, the local ward can ask as much as 3,000 to 5,000 Yen, it’s often cheaper to sell that old CRT television for 100 Yen at a Hard Off.

What I found striking, though, was the sudden prevalence of luxury goods at the local Hard Off (I’m trying to mention the name of the shop as many times as I can; it still makes me giggle). It used to offer the usual, from clothes to kitchen wares, some old home consoles, a few televisions, and maybe a brand corner, these days there were shelves of LV bags, expensive watches, half a shop full of televisions, a lot of home consoles, up to and including the PS3 and much, much more. Now, the televisions can be explained by the switch to digital signals in 2011, and the marketing push to get people to buy new, HD sets in anticipation. The rest, though, seems quite obviously, though unscientifically extrapolated, a result of belt-tightening. People are feeling the pinch and trying to sell their most prized or expensive possessions to avoid having to go to one of the loan companies and their exorbitant, extortive even, interest rates. Luxury watches, game consoles, brand goods, Hard Off has many of them, a lot more than it used to have even a few years ago.

The lessons to learn here are: firstly, yes, there is something awry even in Japan when it comes to the economy and people are panicking a bit, though hysteria may be too loaded a word and, secondly, if you need some new hardware or luxury goods it is not a bad idea to check out your local Hard Off. Tourists, too, especially of the retro-geek kind, might find those elusive Hello Kitty Dreamcasts or an original Famicom in these stores, and if they fancy digging around the large plastic buckets, maybe even some good retro games at prices Super Potato wouldn’t be able to compete with. If you want brand handbags expect to still pay a lot to these second-hand extortionists but at least it will be a lot less than buying them at the Ginza branch first-hand.

The global recession is quite scary, especially if you delve a little deeper into it. It’s not all bad news though (only mostly), as I haven’t paid full-price for a video game in a long, long while now.


  1. It could be worse. It could be called Hard On.

    I have to say though, I've lived in Yokohama for a year and a half and I have never, to my knowledge, seen a Hard Off...?

  2. Hm, maybe they're just in Tokyo. Being a Tokyoite I naturally assume all of Japan must be like Tokyo because what would the point be if it wasn't? ;)

  3. Hard Off is a national chain. Which is a good thing as you never know when you need a good hard off.

  4. Hard off, book off and many other of the sister stores are very prevalent in the Sendai region where I lived. However I noticed as I went down to Nagata and the metros there, the shops was far harder to find, even Tokyo they are quite hard to find.

    Maybe it was because of the time constraints I was under when visiting these areas, a week in total for each one respectively. In my opinion Book off and Hard off didn't offer as great of a selection as the stores in Sendai.

    In the end though I got myself 10s of kilos of retro game software and hardware for bargain prices, that was really awesome and hunting the country for these priced goods together with equally geeky peers made the whole stay in Japan as an exchange student really enjoyable.

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