Reporting from Osaka …

Well, here in Osaka, Japan, the Royal Pines Hotel has free high speed Internet if you have a network connection. At least, it’s reasonably high speed if it works at all, as it did last night and does now, but as it didn’t this morning.

This morning was occupied by a visit to Panasonic’s consumer equipment recycling plant. In April 2001 the ‘Law for Recycling Specified Home Appliances’ was passed, which requires consumers to pay for the recycling of defunct TVs, refrigerators, washing machines and airconditioners. Under the law, the recyclers have to rip apart for reuse 50% of the first three (by weight,per received unit) and 60% of the latter. So Panasonic has established this five billion yen plant to do just this, with a capacity for recycling one million items per year (projected actual throughput for 2003 is 680,000 items).

In addition to the four de-production lines in the plant, there’s a research lab which analyses production methods for new products to improve their future recyclability, thus the 13 different kinds of plastics used in a 1983 Panasonic TV have been reduced to two different kinds in the 2003 model.

Panasonic hasn’t run a profit on this yet, thanks to the need to amortise the enormous capital cost. Their financial receipts consist of the sale of recycled materials and the cost to consumers: TVs at 2,700 yen, airconditioners at 3,500, washing machines 2,400 and refrigerators 4,500.

Afternoon, we were set loose for a couple of hours in the Yodobashi Ukemba store in downtown Osaka. This has floor after floor of gadgetary, from computers and digital cameras through to high end stereo equipment, plus pro-audio gear. The range was mind-numbing.

The odd thing was that almost everything cost just about the same as, or perhaps as much as ten percent less than, it does in Australia. An exception was a pair of B&W 801 Nautilus speakers, slightly shop soiled, which sell for 800,000 yen (~$AUS12,000) compared to the the $AUS25,000 at home.

These speakers were just packed in a row with a whole bunch of lesser speakers, close to a wall, no room to breath. There were no proper listening facilities in sight. Auditioning? Impossible. Sure, they could get them to play, but everything about the setup was wrong.

There were DVD Audio discs and SACDs on the shelf. Very restricted range of both. I fear these formats are doomed.

By the way, if you’re shopping in Japan, don’t get caught out. The price you pay is displayed ticket price plus 5% tax.

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