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Sunday, Sept. 1, 2002

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

How can we be No. 3?


In a revelation no less stunning than if Mount Everest was suddenly surpassed as the world's tallest mountain or the Nile outstretched as the world's longest river, a July news report announced that Tokyo is no longer the world's most expensive city.

What is more, it is not even a close No. 2. First and second place now belong to Hong Kong and Moscow, respectively. This is especially enlightening to us Tokyoites who routinely see our salaries slip through our fingers like soup through a sieve.

You mean, there are places more expensive than this? Half of me wants to howl, "My gosh, what could be the price of haircuts in Hong Kong!?" While my other half can hardly help but gloat: "Heh, heh. So what if it takes thousands of yen to have the barber hack up my hair. It could be worse. I could be having it done in Moscow!"

Making ends meet -- or perhaps almost making ends meet -- is the preoccupation of most Tokyo expats, a lifestyle quandary on which I feel it is high time I commented.

Yet, I refuse to provide hints as to how to wring a wee bit of change out of this, the land of the rising price tag. Any idiot can save you money, but -- as those who read this column know -- I am not just any idiot.

So following is my list of ways to spend your hard-earned cash even faster.

No, don't thank me. Instead thank that quirky love for Japan that continues to keep you here no matter what. Not to mention that perhaps you can no longer afford to move anywhere else.

1. If you're going to blow money in Tokyo, the best place to start is with blowfish. At 20,000 yen per plate, a regular diet of this light delicacy will keep both you and your wallet exquisitely trim.

If you're lucky, you might find a cheaper price, but if you're really lucky -- since blowfish is poisonous and can be lethal -- you will simply drop dead before you have to pay the bill.

2. Nothing makes dead people happier than a funeral. Or at least that what undertakers say. The dead themselves don't often speak on this subject, yet still reap the benefits of funeral charges high enough to make King Tut look shabby.

For example, my father-in-law's sendoff cost a mere 7 million yen. And that was years ago . . . in the countryside . . . with a swell cremation at the end.

"But it's a one-time charge," reasoned my mother-in-law, as her money went up in flames. Only to have the undertaker bend over and whisper about periodic memorial rites.

3. Weddings, of course, are much more enjoyable than funerals -- and more expensive, too. If you insist on all the frills, such as a genuine imitation church service with a genuine foreign fake priest followed by a reception with a 3-meter cake and a 12-course phony French dinner made palatable by an open bar, when the bill comes you may well wish you had opted for the funeral instead.

Yet, if you're looking to spend with no end, weddings have a benefit that no funeral can beat. That being, if you don't get the service -- or partner -- right, you can always do it again later.

4. Of course, staying married isn't exactly cheap either. Still, according to an unquestionable authority (my wife's hairdresser), as many as one in six Tokyo men over 40 keeps a mistress.

And you thought supporting one household was steep! Your typical mistress, for example, needs a penthouse apartment in the heart of the city, a closet full of the latest Harajuku fashions, and a steady diet of champagne and caviar (Source: Any knucklehead knows this).

Riding my commuter line each day, I often peruse the older men and wonder how they can manage. Then I poke my head around to see if I can spot a mistress or two. I mean, logic says there should be one mistress for each mistress-keeper -- at least.

"Stupid!" says my wife's hairdresser. "They're not on the train! They're all out driving their Lamborghinis!"

5. If keeping a mistress doesn't match your gender or morals, there is an easy way to spend almost as much. Just keep a teenage daughter.

Experts who study Japan's creaking economy say there is but one reason why this nation's financial system hasn't gone belly up: Japanese teenage girls consume like mad.

Fashion, makeup, entertainment, electronics, phone bills, travel and -- unlike with a mistress who can be let go at the end of her lease -- the spending never ends! So now you know why so many parents are willing to endure high wedding costs.

Of course, there are scads of smaller ways to achieve fiscal ruin, Tokyo-style.

Like hanging around in Roppongi until after the trains stop and then hiring a cab to your home in the suburbs. Rates are three times higher then, which is why many drivers will hum merrily along with the rapid click of the meter. All of these guys can afford multiple mistresses, I'm sure.

Or how about buying a ring-side seat at a sumo tournament? Such suna-kaburi tickets are almost impossible to come by and cannot be had without "connections" (Translation: a suitcase full of yen).

In this case, not only can you say sayonara to all your loot, you may also experience the pleasure of having a 200-kg fat man fall on you.

I wonder if Hong Kong or Moscow can beat that!



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