Thursday, August 02, 2007

Team Minus 6%

Back when I was still mad about sumo, I watched a program about the wrestlers' personal lives which included Wakanohana (a grand champion from a family of grand champions - his brother, father and uncle were all famous sumo champions as well), I noticed that the Japanese love to give cute little names in katakana English to certain trends or commercial campaigns. At that time, it was pretty popular to say "my (whatever)". In the program I was watching, Wakanohana was bowling and used his own equipment so I'd hear things like "mai baggu" (my bag) and "mai boru" (my ball). I believe that marketers use Japanized English as catch phrases because they feel they will be more memorable. I was reminded of these sorts of naming conventions and how they're used to promote certain campaigns after a recent experience at a grocery shop.

Yesterday I went to the local market (Inageya) to pick up various and sundry items and chose to allow them to give me a bag because I needed a few for trash. As I posted previously, I'm very careful only to take bags when I need them as trash bin liners. At any given time, we've got 4-5 of them at most on hand, usually fewer. Instead of putting a plastic bag in my basket, the clerk put the packet pictured above in it.

Inside, there's a reusable, waterproof synthetic bag ("mai baggu") which is the same size and shape as a conventional plastic shopping bag. The market and others who are participating in the Team Minus 6% program are distributing these in the hopes of getting consumers to use them instead of taking plastic bags each time. I'm not sure how well this will work but it's a very good idea.

The distribution of these items is an attempt to help reduce greenhouse gas by 6% by 2012 in accord with the Kyoto protocol. Reduction of excessive packaging is one component of the plan. The others are water consumption reduction, using ecologically friendly products, setting air conditioner temperatures such that they consume less power, reducing gasoline consumption from idling vehicles, and reducing electricity consumption. In typical Japanese marketing fashion, a trite name in English, "Team Minus 6%" (チームマイナス6%), has been applied to the campaign to make it feel more personalized and memorable.

The main problem with these campaigns is that, even in a country like Japan where awareness of others is much higher than in the west and notions of personal sacrifice are lauded, people still tend to act based on personal comfort rather than on higher principles. The housewives who I see asking for extra bags and practically emptying the spools of extra-thin, free plastic bags for wrapping wet (vegetables and fruit) or drippy food items (meat in trays) aren't going to start going for re-usable bags any time soon because it'll cramp their lifestyle. I'm pretty sure that the only thing which is going to motivate them will be charging for the plastic bags distributed at check-out. It could be that these bags are being distributed in anticipation of starting to ask customers to pay for bags so that they will be less disgruntled when the time comes.

Getting this reusable bag has made me re-consider getting shopping bags as trash can liners. I'm guessing that shopping bags are thicker than required and the handles are unnecessary meaning they're using more material and are more wasteful as liners. It'd probably be better to buy specially-designed liners just for trash and cease getting shopping bags altogether. So, if nothing else, they've accomplished their goal with me.

Update: I went to Inageya again today and indeed they have stopped giving out shopping bags for free. Now, you have to grab one at the end of the aisle and pay 5 yen for it if you want one. I think it'd be better if they charged 10 yen each as I think people would take it more seriously but at least this removes the mindless element from getting a bag.


Kanagawa G said...

Hi Shari,

Long time reader, first time poster.

I can identify with the "mai" trend. When I first came to Japan about 10 years ago I lived out in the countryside and would drive to work. My Japanese language skills weren't up to speed back then and when one of the guys in the office asked me if I came to work in "mai car" (マイカーで来たの?), it really threw me for a loop. I kept thinking, "What kind of question is that? This guy knows very well that he doesn't give me a ride to work in the mornings."

It took me a while to get a feel for "katakana English."

Shari said...

Hi, Kanagawa G, and thanks for commenting (and reading)!

Ah, "my car", I used to hear that one on T.V. a lot. I think that may be singlehandedly responsible for a lot of mis-use of "my" instead of "your". ;-)

The flip-side to katakana English is that, once we understand it, we can use it to communicate things we don't know in Japanese because there seems to be a fair bit of it.

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Roy said...

I have a shopping bag like this and use it when I can but the problem is usually I do my shopping on the way home and don't really have it with me. I need to get into the habit and taking it whereever I go.

CMUwriter said...

One of my biggest pet peeves is getting too many shopping bags when going to a store. It seems that American cashiers are brainwashed to give out a bag for the most minute thing in the world. My policy is put everything you can fit in one bag and leave the rest at the store. If i buy one item, I'll carry it out of the store. Sure I look a little weird carrying a package of bacon around, but it saves me from having a bag.

Sharon said...

Unfortunately, here in PA, they don't encourage people to bring their own bags. In fact, you are looked on rather suspiciously if you bring a large tote because of the problem with shoplifting. I would prefer to take my own tote bag, but most stores don't want that. The few stores that encourage bringing your own bags/boxes tend to be warehouse type stores, and you have to bring ones that are collapsible or allow them to be searched at the checkout desk. These places either charge for bags, or do not provide them at all.

Shari said...

Roy: I think it's harder for office works (who don't usually run around with backpacks) and men (who don't carry purses) to remember to carry such bags. I can say that the one I got folds up into the size of a pocket handkerchief.

cmuwriter: You have to be careful about not taking a bag and carrying around one item. When I was a teenager, I opted to carry something rather than get a bag because even back then I was trying not to be wasteful. I was walking around with an 8" x 10" sticker that I'd picked up a store selling rock T-shirts, posters, and other memorabilia through a mall and a store detective stopped me and harassed me about having stolen it from JC Penney's or some other place that didn't even carry such esoteric items. I had the receipt so I could prove I'd paid for it but it was a pretty traumatic experience being stopped and humiliated like that in front of other people in the mall, especially at that age. The moral is to always keep the receipt if you don't get a bag. To this day, I do this in Japan.

I think Sharon's comment (she's my sister) pretty much sums up some of the issues and concerns. I still wouldn't let that stop me but I would be prepared to have to present a receipt for anything and know that there's an increased chance I'd be searched.

CMUwriter said...

Shari: As far as that goes it happens even if you have the thing in a bag and have a reciept. The walmart in my town does this all the time, they randomly check shopping carts, i.e. toss the entire thing for stuff which wasn't paid for, on a regular basis. I don't know why, maybe to scare potential shoplifters.