Classified ads

Classified Ads"Buy me out! Leaving Japan and want to sell the contents of my apartment. Perfect for one newly-arrived gaijin. Call..."

"Gay English man seeks Japanese male or fun girl for language exchange. I speak Japanese like a chicken reads Braille, but it' fun. Please call..."
"Help! I need a girlfriend. Write..."

Free ad papers containing classifieds like these are not a new concept. An association of such papers has existed since 1986; well before then free ad papers existed in many major cities, even Moscow. As communities became more amorphous, the ways in which goods moved, circulated and were reborn as a neighbor's cherished new item changed as well. Add to this growing environmental awareness, and former ways of disposing of goods (the local landfill, for example) no longer sufficed. And for those who don't live close to a Meddling Mabel, meeting the perfect mate becomes more, well, work than it used to be. Enter the free ad paper.

Except, until very recently, in Tokyo. Yes, there were classified sections in the English dailies (the weekly job offerings in The Japan Times, or items for sale in The Yomiuri), but these publications filled only a small part of a huge potential niche and were by and large aimed at a gaijin audience. They were not classified-driven publications, nor did they serve as any kind of community forum. When Tokyo Classified started, it was hard to sell advertising to Japanese companies because most of the company honchos didn't know a classified ad from an ocha pot.

So why, outside of English publications, such a dearth of free-ad papers in Japan? First, readers were afraid of printing personal details, like phone numbers, in a magazine. Second, the long-held prejudice against "old," secondhand items. In a country that traded in its cars every few years, and spent millions of yen annually on high-status Gucci bags, used items were decidedly "out." Gomi shopping was the provenance of penny-pinching gaijin.

What changed? Economy and attitudes. The consumption tax, though small compared to sales taxes in other nations, hit housewives hard. Some wards and cities changed their sodai gomi (over-sized garbage) disposal policies to require payment. And don't forget "internationalization," that tired buzzword of the nineties. A recent article in ALC's Business English posited that Tokyo Classified's Language Exchange section contributes to Japan's "internationalization" efforts. Going a bit far, perhaps, but there's no denying that English-language free ad papers are used by many Japanese advertisers and readers who see them as the best way to reach gaijin who can't speak Japanese. Add to that a convoluted distribution system that pads prices, and a revolution was ready to be borne.

The first Japanese-language free ad magazine to go on sale ("free" refers to the ads) was the 300-page Quanto for buying and selling secondhand goods. Jamaru-for personal ads - was launched in 1996. It now sells over 400,000 copies each month.

The mainstream press has started to take notice. In its Jan 3, 1997 issue Olive magazine profiled the classifieds as a means for Japanese and foreigners to meet and interact. An article in the Aug 1998 issue of Ginza let its Japanese readers in on how gaijin in Tokyo were coming across all these deals; cheap apartments, furniture, computers - classified ads. Across, an an, Being A Broad, CNN English Express, Esquire Japan, MacWorld, Oz, and Panja magazines, Nihon Keizai and Japan Times Weekly papers have also turned their spotlights on the classified ad phenomenon.

What does the future portend? Classified ads will be around as long as people need and use them. Look for the number of Japanese-language free ad papers to skyrocket in the next few years, as the concept of "expensive is not necessarily better" finally puts down roots - one beneficial byproduct of the extended economic downturn. "Tall Taro seeks slim Sachiko" will soon be as mainstream as arranged marriages once were.

Aeve Bladwin

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
Issues 248/9 -