Home > Focus on Japan 2005 > I Don’t Buy Used Stuff Anymore

I Don’t Buy Used Stuff Anymore

May 27th, 2005

I remember when I first came to Japan in the mid-80’s, Japan was in a boom period and consumption was rampant–and garbage was of fairly high quality. At the time, Japanese people were throwing out some pretty nice stuff. The foreigners who came to Japan in that period often didn’t have much to spend, especially at first (you usually don’t arrive in a new country flush with cash, your first pay doesn’t arrive for one and a half months, and paying 6 month’s worth of rent before getting the key to your apartment has the effect of draining whatever resources you have), so many depended on the junk to be found in the streets. No dumpster-diving–you’d just see a nice gas cooker laying on the side of the street and take it home to find that it worked. Now, this is not as pathetic as it might sound; it was pretty good junk, and there was no reason to let it go to waste. From furniture to electronic items, if you found it before it rained, there were some more-than-acceptable items. I knew a few people whose apartments were almost fully furnished with stuff off the streets.

When the economy crashed, things changed. People stopped throwing out perfectly good stuff so much. Secondhand shops started sucking up what remained–bad news for people trying to get by on the cheap. A lot of the stuff the shops get is discards that would have ended up in the gomi piles; they have small trucks roaming the streets now, crying out for you to give them your stuff. This not only takes away any usable items for people walking past to find and pick up, but it annoys the hell out of me by adding yet another damn loudspeaker truck to the horde that continuously drive through every last parking lot in the area at 5 kilometers per hour.

But that’s not the only reason I don’t buy from such places. They also charge way too much. They pay nothing or close to nothing if you’re trying to get rid of something, and way too close to the list price for new items to justify a used purchase. And often you get something (no refunds, thank you) you didn’t expect. One experience I had was the purchase of a dining room table. A solid wood table, looked fine, the price high but not prohibitive. But after I got it home, something changed–the smell of my apartment, specifically. But it was subtle enough at first that I didn’t recognize the table as being the source of it. You see, I started smelling cigarette smoke on a regular basis.

At first, I attributed it to my chain-smoking next-door neighbor, who always left his front window open with smoke pouring through so if I left my own front window open, it was like having a smoker in my place. I had already had trouble with the smoke; I discovered that whenever I turned on the air vent in my bathroom or over my stove, the cigarette smell from my neighbor would get sucked in via a small air vent most Japanese places have by the front door. But this new smell wasn’t getting in like that, I eventually determined. I finally identified the source as my new used table. Apparently, the former owner had been even more intense a smoker than my neighbor, and the stink permeated the wood. I tried various solutions such as hosing down every crevice of the table and applying spays and solvents, but eventually it was just a matter of letting the stink escape from the wood until there was no more.

Buying used stuff from other people was even less satisfying. In a previous stay in Japan, I moved into a place in Koganei and had to buy a refrigerator. I looked at both secondhand shops and personal ads, and found some guy out in Kasai who had a fridge priced at 11,900 yen. A rather odd figure–most people choose nice, round numbers for personal used items, and when I asked the guy about it, he even admitted that he felt such numbers sold better. What sold me, however, was a reasonable price for a reasonably-sized fridge. I went to the guy’s place, and he proved it was working by showing me the ice in the freezer and inviting me to stick my hand in the main section and feeling the coolness. Figuring it worked from this evidence, I paid him and arranged for the delivery.

When the fridge came, I turned it on, and lo, it froze ice and it made my hand feel cool when I felt inside. But the damned thing didn’t get cool enough. The freezer would just barely make ice when turned on high (anything less wouldn’t freeze anything), and the fridge probably didn’t get down below the high 50’s fahrenheit, tops. (It was summer, which made it feel colder when you put your hand in.) The refrigerator was useless–and the guy I bought it from refused to take it back or give any refund at all. I despise people who sell stuff they know is broken–but when you buy used stuff, that’s just a common risk you face.

But the fridge story had a happy ending which dovetails nicely with the trash angle of this post. Just a few days after I bought the good-for-nothing fridge, one of the most unlikely things I’ve experienced happened: one of my building’s occupants threw out a broken refrigerator. And that refrigerator just happened to be the exact same model and color as the broken fridge I’d just bought from that creep. The discarded fridge, which sat just a few meters from my front door with a sign on it designating it as large-trash-item-for-pickup, had a broken door–somehow it had become warped and did not close properly. The fridge I had was broken because of its internals, but the door was fine. So I got an idea. I got out a screwdriver, took the door from my fridge and put it on the broken refrigerator outside, ran an extension cord to it, and plugged it in. Sure enough, it worked perfectly. I could hardly believe how that had happened to work out (what are the odds on that?), but was not about to question such good fortune. So I put the piece of junk I’d bought with the swapped broken door outside and took the newly amalgamated fridge into my kitchen, where it worked just fine until I left Japan two and a half years later.

But that experience turned me off to buying used stuff from individuals, as the smoking table and high prices turned me off to used junk stores. And having lived in Japan for 7 years straight, I have enough money that I don’t have to buy used junk, thankfully. In the end, it’s just not worth the hassle, and it is just a nice luxury to have new stuff.

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  1. May 28th, 2005 at 00:47 | #1

    I used to think my family was the only one who did that. I grew up on a farm so we were pretty poor, and dad would always find some pretty nice furniture or appliances and bring them home. Some of the furniture is still used today at their cabin, and it’s been at least 15 years since we’ve had it.

    I personally live off second-hand when it comes to luxury items such as DVDs CDs, video games and the like. Even my current 36″ tv was bought used, cheap, and works like a charm. It just has some scratches on the casing which I could care less about. I know people who work at a second-hand shop so I get a nice discount off the already low prices. Plus they test everything before selling it and refund if anything breaks within a week of purchase 😀

  2. Luis
    May 28th, 2005 at 00:57 | #2

    Wendy: sorry about Chester. I had a hamster exactly like him–a brown long-haired hamster named Mocha. Best type, I think.

    I assume you have no comments in your blog because of blog spam–certainly can’t argue with you if that’s the case.

  3. Luis
    May 28th, 2005 at 01:18 | #3

    As for buying stuff used, by the way–I never have your luck with things working. What I buy used tends to go south and fairly quickly. Last thing I bought used was a 50cc scooter, which broke down one month after I’d bought it. Turns out it needed repairs in the hundreds of dollars, but the prior owner just gave it a tune-up so that it seemed to work OK.

  4. June 2nd, 2005 at 23:45 | #4

    I read your posts about Mocha, such a sweet little thing, very adorable too. Also, I’m just too lazy to set up comments, but I have email addresses listed in the contact section 😉

    Sometimes my used items work better than new ones. When I bought my brand new car in 1999, it had to be taken into service 11 times and had to have the engine partially rebuilt within half a year of owning it. In 2000, I bought a used 1996 Aurora that had only 36k miles on it and was in immaculate condition. I paid less than half of what my ’99 car cost, and it still runs better than my ’99 today. It’s just the luck of the draw I suppose. I’ve had my share of items that were less than functional shortly after finding them, but the positive finds outweigh the negative. Like buying a used 40gb iPod for $160 when they were retailing for over $400 at the time :)

  5. Janice
    August 12th, 2007 at 06:26 | #5

    It is always good to buy new items is because your the first one to use. Anything are left overs are not going to be good and they don’t last. My dad bought me a second washing machine it didn’t last it broke down, it won’t do the cycle. So I end buying a new one it last more years it save me more money than cost me for fixing all over. My dad’s relative has a habit giving me second items all my item are second hand I just accept it so they won’t say ungratefull to me but the really true purpose is trash to them they just don’t want it to see there junk on there on lot and won’t be a bad looking to the neighbor. So I just accept it everything to coach, microwave, TV, an etc. then I end up throwing them on my street close to my house because the items don’t last and useless. I am doing this for being nice. I felt like I rather keep in mind brand new is always the best.

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