National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

Overindulging at home and playing the online ratings game amid a pandemic

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing writer

How credible are those so-called kuchikomi sites, on which customers are invited to rate everything from restaurants and hotels to doctors and online purchases? Do most people who submit them post in good faith? Rather than seek out the best-rated businesses, Shukan Post (July 10-17) purposely patronized establishments that had received especially poor ratings to see if the negative reports were warranted.

The weekly magazine’s reporter first reserved a room at a hotel in the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture.

“The woman who took my reservation was exceptionally polite,” the reporter recalls, “but I felt somewhat anxious when she warned, ‘Our boiler is undergoing repairs and so we don’t have hot water. Would you be willing to go to the local public bath?’”

The woman added that ¥500 would be discounted from the room rate for the lack of hot water.

The service was certainly not bad, the reporter wrote, but this place was definitely one of a kind.

“This might sound incredible, but we have removed the refrigerators from the rooms because guests were using them to put in specimens of fecal matter,” the reporter was told.

After later visiting a hotel near the Sea of Japan where the front desk couldn’t break a ¥10,000 note and a bar under new management in the city of Akita that was troubled by outdated posts from its previous incarnation, the writer dropped in at a restaurant in the city of Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture.

Several reviews of the establishment were rather critical.

“All I could taste was black pepper,” one reviewer noted.

“I ordered gratin because the weather was cold, but it was tasteless,” wrote another.

“You’re better off just buying a box lunch from 7-Eleven,” yet another reviewer wrote.

The reporter ordered a beef and potato croquette dish for ¥850. While the portion may have been a bit on the skimpy side, he found the amount of black pepper seasoning to be just right, completely contradicting the poor review.

“There are always going to be people who don’t like how something tastes,” its proprietor told the reporter, “but they shouldn’t post things that are simply not true. The gratin somebody mentioned isn’t even on our menu.”

IT journalist Tetsutaro Koyama warns that it can be dangerous to trust subjective remarks posted on such ratings sites.

“Japanese people tend to believe such sites,” Koyama says, “but some posters may have ulterior motives, so people should view ratings as a point of reference at best.”

In the end, Shukan Post concluded, nothing beats trying it yourself, or, as Japanese say, “hyakubun wa ikken ni shikazu” (loosely translated as “seeing is believing”).

Trapped at home with little to do, some people may be overindulging in strong drink, Aera (July 13) has reported.

Take a 46-year-old gentleman residing in Tokyo’s residential Setagaya Ward the magazine spoke to. Discouraged from going out on weekends during the pandemic, he has been consuming alcohol for hours on end, to the point that when the weekly pickup for recycled cans and bottles came past each Thursday, he lugged out between 16 to 18 empty wine bottles, and three or four large sake bottles of around 1,800 millimeters.

Kakuyasu, an alcoholic beverage retailer, confirmed that although its year-on-year sales to businesses were down by 75.9 percent compared with May 2019, home-delivery sales to individuals were up by 45.9 percent.

Akiyoshi Saito, head of the mental health and welfare department at the Ofuna Enomoto Clinic in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, says memory lapses are one of several telltale signs of overindulgence in alcohol.

“It can lead to a vicious cycle of economic or physical loss, and a loss of people’s trust,” he warns.

After interviewing Saito, reporter Masato Haneda headed for a train station and briefly considered grabbing one for the road. However, he ends the article by admitting that he decided to “refrain.”

An unhappy new addition to the expanding lexicon of terms related to the pandemic is korona sagi,” or coronavirus-related fraud. Shukan Jitsuwa (July 23) reports that two new Osaka outfits have made it onto a list of 10 hangure (groups of quasi-gangsters) identified by police authorities.

“The hangure are not covered by existing legislation controlling yakuza,” a reporter at the national desk of a major newspaper said, adding that “young people tend to dislike the formalized hierarchical structure of the yakuza and prefer to tie up with hangure.”

A crackdown against yakuza has been in place in parts of six prefectures (including Hyogo, Kyoto, Osaka and Aichi), which prohibits more than five gang members from assembling in one place. Members of groups of quasi-gangsters, however, are not covered by this restriction.

Citing an article from Friday magazine, as early as January of this year, before the pandemic had spread to Japan, hangure are suspected of having teamed up with crime syndicates to buy up large quantities of surgical masks, which were sold for a handsome profit.

By the end of June, according to a police source, hangure groups were also suspected in defrauding elderly people out of the ¥100,000 relief payments provided by the government.

Osaka alone is believed to be home to as many as 50 hangure groups and, with restrictions on bars and other businesses gradually being loosened, they are expected to resurface and resume their nefarious activities.

With all those warnings and stay-home advisories, the first half of 2020 was definitely not a good time to open a new restaurant business.

Nevertheless, ANTCICADA opened last month in Tokyo’s Bakurocho neighborhood. As its name suggests, the restaurant specializes in dishes made with insects. Shukan Shincho (July 9) sent a reporter to review it.

Its ramen noodles are served in soup stock made with a ratio of 90 percent crickets and 10 percent shiitake mushrooms. Each bowl contains a concentrate equivalent to 100 crickets.

“Crickets taste vaguely like shrimp,” said proprietor Yuta Shinohara. “We use two domestically raised species of cricket. As they’re omnivorous, they may taste differently depending on what they were fed.”

A full-course meal at ANTCICADA, which includes beefsteak in a sauce made from bee grubs, costs ¥10,000.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

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