Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tokyo's "apartheid of price"

Is it because journalists are generally from the upper middle class, or that they are the stupidest people who ever managed to struggle through a university course, that they are able to make ridiculous comparisons between something as trivial as the differing cost of different restaurants, and something as serious as apartheid? I don't know, nor would I ever dare crawl inside the hulking shell of stupid that is the average journalist's mind long enough to try to understand how, but this is what one of these geniuses of print managed to produce in the Sydney Morning Herald today. Matthew Thompson wrote a review of Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai's Tokyo restaurant in today's Sydney Morning Herald, but in fact most of the review consisted of a complaint about the high cost of food in Tokyo.

Since, in fact, food isn't that much more expensive in Tokyo than in Sydney, this article presents an excellent opportunity to display precisely how terrible and deliberately deceptive much reporting on Japan can be.

First we consider the basic task which Matthew Thompson set himself, which was

We had thought we could cope on a daily food and transport budget of $100 or just under ¥10,000

which anybody who knows Sydney can tell you, is a pretty much impossible task to achieve in Sydney. So why try to do it in Tokyo? So you can make your article conform to a pre-defined script, perhaps? Matthew Thompson's first observation is that "our only affordable meal seems to be tiny watery noodle meals with small servings of beer or sake", which he claims cost a combined $30 for him and his partner. Putting aside his desire to have beer with his lunch, one has to ponder if when he chose these noodle dishes he had not, perhaps, looked at the rice, tenpura and noodle sets which every such restaurant also serves, and which cost less than $30 for 2. Or perhaps he had not bothered to find a 3-course Italian lunch for $10? Every time I go to Tokyo I manage to find a 3 course Italian lunch including drink for $10; I can also find curry/soup/espresso lunch sets in snazzy malls in Shinbashi for $12. Perhaps Mr. Thompson wasn't looking?

Mr. Thompson then commences with the deception. In order to "make it through the day", they buy boiled eggs at the convenience store for 70 yen, which is less than a dollar, and

"wash them down with ¥190 convenience-store cans of beer-like alcoholic drinks; brewers keep them cheap by using pea matter instead of malt or wheat to avoid a beer levy."
Perhaps Mr. Thompson is unaware that in Japan there are these things called "supermarkets" which are cheaper than convenience stores. But in any case, even in his ignorance he can get a real beer - real beer in convenience stores starts at 157 yen, 30 cents less than the beer-like drinks he is forced to consume. The quality beers start at 200 yen. And how much is a 200 yen beer in Australian dollars? $2.10, considerably less than a single beer will cost you in Oz, where 6 packs of beer are now $20. Even buying in bulk, Australian beer is more expensive than Japanese. But by avoiding either an intra-store or international comparison, Mr. Thompson is able to pretend that he is doing something terribly expensive. How tricky!

Then Mr. Thompson tells us that at night he and his wife would raid the supermarkets for "discounted sushi". He doesn't mention the price, and why would he? A pack for 2 would set him and his wife back a combined total of $10. It's not often in Australia that two people get to eat a sushi meal for $10. In fact, toting up the total of all the food he has eaten during the day, and generously including the $30 for their watery noodle lunches, we discover that Mr. Thompson and his wife have spent a total of $50, half their allowance, on 2 meals for 2 people. He claims to be always hungry because of the "tiny" serves of noodles - perhaps he should have bought a "setto" (set meal) at the same restaurant where he bought his tiny bowl of noodles - an extra $1 will probably get him rice and some tenpura prawns. Never mind, not everyone can read a picture menu, especially if they only have a journalism degree to bolster their feeble intellect.

Having read such deceitful dross, are we really to believe Mr. Thompson when he talks about Tokyo's "prestige-obssessed consumer culture"? I think not. But moving on, we find that this man who is so shocked by the pursuit of prestige decides to finish his time in Japan with a trip to the restaurant of the famous Hiroyuki Sakai, the French Japanese chef on Iron Chef. This, I presume, is what we are reading for. Mr. Thompson reveals that the meal for both he and his partner came to a grand total of $300 - and Mr. Thompson did not choose the cheapest course, either. That puts it a staggering $90 cheaper than the only comparable restaurant in Sydney, Tetsuya's, which is $195 per person. So, in Tokyo Mr. Thompson paid $300 to eat in a world-famous restaurant; in Sydney $390 to eat in a locally famous restaurant. And the food, he tells us, was exquisite.

Is this the apartheid of price to which Mr. Thompson refers in his last paragraph? No, the apartheid of price is his comparison of the normal cost of food and the cost of his expensive restaurant experience. He and his partner struggled to eat normal food for less than $100 a day, but they could eat at one of Tokyo's world renowned and best restaurants for $300. Clearly, the discrimination in Tokyo is heartbreaking in its proportions, so heartbreaking that one can eat like a king for $400 a day, or eat like a peasant for $100 a day. I'm sure it was just such a 4-fold difference in price which led the French to the Bastille in 1792...

This is the quality of routine Western reporting on Japan, and the reason it is best to believe nothing one reads from Western newspapers about Japan.


Blogger Cracklypork said...

It is easy to get cheap eats in Japan, at prices comparable in Sydney. Bento boxes that you get from convenience stores can range from $5 upwards, depending on the size and complexity of the meal. Of course, not something one should subsist on (as I've discovered to my detriment) but certainly cheaper than most people think. The normal eateries, not the high end restaurants, are normal priced compared to Sydney (plenty of those in the nearby redlight district where we stayed in Tokyo).

5:34 PM  
Blogger Miss Ember said...

I can regularly get a three course lunch from 800 to 1000 yen in both city and country Japan. It includes bread, salad, soup, a quite large main, dessert and a drink. Sometimes in Syders, a coffee and cake would cost me this much.

I think that newspapers have an "editorial content style guide" for the countries about which they write. Japan's style guide says: "must write only about the expensive, the perverse, the kooky, the sexist and the racist". You know, just to reinforce the stereotype. That's why we only read about frustrated, lonely housewives rendezvousing in love hotels, the high price of rent, food etc, chikans on public transport, Akihabara cosplay nerdies and vending machines spitting out schoolgirls' underwear.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so deeply full of shit that it's funny.

Firstly, I didn't write a review of Sakai's restaurant, you dumb dick, I wrote a travel story where I went to his restaurant.

Secondly, why the fuck would I want to go all the way to Japan to eat Italian? Christ, what a lamehead piece of turd you are.

Thirdly, you can get 6 packs of beer in Australia for $8.99, ass-sucker.

Next, I don't have a journalism degree, dickwad, I studied history and literature.

Furthermore, if you don't think Japan is generally obessessed with prestige labels, then you are even thicker than the slime dripping out of your diseased cock.

And what's more, Sakai's restaurant cost more than $500, you stinking cancer.

You are just lucky the paper didn't run the paragraphs about the Yasukuni war shrine where I mentioned POWs and their diet.

God, what a nancy you are. Good thing blogs exist to keep the likes of you feeling like you have a 'voice'.


Matthew Thompson.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Miss Ember said...

Golly, looks like someone is pretending to be Mr Thompson. Either that or Mr Thompson is further fine-tuning his skills in writing utter s&*%. What a bog-roll of a post.

1:54 AM  
Blogger Sir S said...

No Matthew you wrote a hit piece on Tokyo where you happened to mention Sakai's restaurant. And why did you go all the way to Japan to eat French food? Could it be because you are a prestige label-obsessed literature graduate who loves spending daddy's money on expensive restaurants? And was it Daddy's money which got you into the literature degree to start with, or are they so desperate for students in the humanities faculties these days that they even let in the journalism dropouts?

Don't kid me with the $9 six-pack bullshit either. There's no way a smug little silver-spooner like you drinks anything like that, except when he's trying to prove that he isn't a nancy - which would be the whole point of your abusive little comment. Such a shame that the article and the comment both prove that you're a vain, self-important twat.

That is, if this commenter even is Matthew Thompson, and not just a sad little git who gets his jollies from impersonating journalists...

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slavish fans of Japan are the world's saddest little people. Others might have a special liking for China, Latin America, the US, or Greece, etc, but they are generally ready to have a laugh about how screwed up those places are in their own way. But Japan-lovers are so horrendously precious that it's probably even cringey to the Japs. Wow. You people are funny. Great candidates for suicide, but funny.
Matthew Thompson.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Sir S said...

No Matthew, the saddest little person is the shrivel-cocked oik who has formed his own little fan club. It must have really cut you to the quick when you vanity-googled your oh-so-clever "apartheid of price" soundbite and all that came up was the irrelevant blog of a complete nobody, criticizing your bland and deceptive style. Even your own article doesn't register! That must have really got on your wick, to make you write such a malodorous and completely worthless response.

Now why don't you take your gucci handbag and fuck off? And don't let the door hit your fat rich-boy arse on the way out.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Miss Ember said...

Wow, those comments certainly illustrate what I said before about journos having a brief on how to write about Japan: NEVER SAY ANYTHING GOOD, always conform to the stereotype that has been done to death by scores of journos before you.

Did the SMH overlook including "Japs" in their style guide? Funny how it appears here and not in your article. Also nice to know that journos are happy to post racist slurs online in their free time. Very professional.

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Japs is racist? No, it's a contraction like Aussie. It's not even something entirely different like pom, yank, gringo, etc. You people really ought to get out more.
Matthew Thompson.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyway, thanks for taking part in my experiment in interactive journalism. It was fun to step out from the page and give feedback on feedback. Gets boring just heading back to the office and ignoring such close readings of the text.
But I don't think I'll do it again - it feels liberating to call readers dickwads and ass-suckers, but perhaps it's a bit too transgressive.
Thanks for the opportunity, nevertheless.
Kind regards,
Matthew Thompson.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Sir S said...

Yes Matthew, you have really covered yourself in glory with this little excursion into the real world, haven't you? I suggest you stay behind your desk, exercising your "literary" (gag) brain.

Just a little hint though - signing your name all those times will increase the page rank of this page. I wonder what will happen if your next employer googles your name and takes an interest in the intellectual character of your comments? That would be amusing "close reading of the text" now wouldn't it?

You stupid little troll.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, how much better it would be to sign off as some wussy glove puppet like "Sir S".
Matthew Thompson.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


9:57 AM  
Blogger Sir S said...

Oh look, you took the hint and stopped signing your name. I'm sure you feel a little silly now don't you?

Here's another hint: fuck off and don't come back.

3:42 PM  

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