Asahi Evening News: The Best Ads in Life are Free

Looking for an oscillator? Or an alien? Get what you’re after in the pages of Japan’s freewheeling classified ad press.

If you are in search of phone cards from the Baltic states, a pen pal in New Zealand or want to buy a pharmacy in Venezia, the chances are you will be able to find what you want in Japan’s free ad magazines. After years where the concept of classified advertising was virtually mainstream ad media, magazines that invite individuals to place ads to buy and sell second-hand goods, seek housing, pets, language exchange partners or romance are booming in Japan. Leading the pack of English-language free-ad papers is “Tokyo Classified,” a colorful publication that started as a 2-page pamphlet three years ago.

Nowadays, the free information pamphlet, in which individuals can place advertisements free of charge and that generates revenue by charging companies to advertise, has 24 pages and a circulation of 30,000. If you’ve just arrived in Tokyo, you can use the classifieds to find a house, to go places and meet people. You couldn’t do that before,” said Mark Devlin who co-owns Crisscross Co., the complany which started the handout.

Mary Devlin-Mark’s partner and wife-and another partner who has since left the company set up Crisscross in September 1993 and published the first issue in February 1994. “Before we published the first issue, Mary went around trying to sell ads to Japanese companies. We had a bit of a problem because many Japanese companies didn’t know what a classified ad was.” said Mark. He said the company plans to expand the magazine to include listings of upcoming events, as well as advertisements this year.

Free-ad magazines such as “Buy and Sell,” which originated in Vancouver, and the London-based “Loot” have long been popular in North America and Europe, but for many years publishing companies did not think free-ad papers would catch on in Japan. In the last two years, however, both English-language and Japanese-language free-ad papers have taken off here. Many people pick up the magazines to look for second-hand bargains, but others flip through the ads regularly to be amused by the sometimes off-the-wall ads that turn up among the serious ones.

Anything goes

Along with pages of computers for sale and “handsome guys looking for … girls,” there are also ads selling such oddities as a “Morse code practice oscillator.” Perhaps you might be interested in the “handyman from California who fixes lonely broken hearts.” A “hot spring club for active and sophisticated people” invites people to take part in day-trips featuring mixed bathing, while Sleepless in Yokohama desperately appeals for “help and a a serious relationship” in recent editions of Tokyo Classified. Support groups like Overeaters Anonymous and counseling groups such as a group helping the adult children of alcoholics also regularly place ads.

There are no restrictions on the ads that are run in the free ads papers-and no guarantee that the contents are accurate. In the main, ads are run just the way they are received, leaving both readers and placers of ads in a vulnerable position. A Canadian man, whose Tokyo Classified ad begins: “Alien is here! Are you bored dating men from earth…,” said he gets three to six responses a week from the ad, which he has been running for several weeks. He placed the ad, he said, “to meet somebody interesting.” So far he has met five of his callers. But also because of his ad, he now receives prank phone calls regularly.

Reiko Yamamoto of Kyoritsu Dentall Association, who regularly advertises English-language dental services in the magazine, said she believes the English-Language classifieds are the best way to reach foreigners who have only just come to Japan and don’t speak Japanese. “People come to the dental office because they have seen the ad,” she said.

Getting in on the act

The first Japanese-language free-ad magazine to go on sale here was “Quanto,”offering 300 pages of ads for the buying and selling of such items as second-hand cars and brand-name goods. Unlike the Enlish-language papers, “Quanto” is not free of charge and costs ¥430 per copy. “It’s a good way to sell goods because it’s cheap,” said Masayoshi Tsushima, who said he received 30 responses from an advertisement for Chanel design bags in the Jan. 16 issue of the magazine. Noboru Endo, managing editor of “Quanto,” believes the Japanese-language ad paperss have become popular because of a change of thinking in Japan.”We felt there was no need to go through Japan’s long, complicated distribution system to sell goods. We wanted to give people a chance to sell goods directly,” he said.

Another ad paper publisher makes a separate point. “One reason (free-ad papers took such a long time to catch on in Japan) is because people were afraid to put personal telephone numbers and addresses in the ads,” said Toshiaki Onoki, the deputy managing editor of “Jamaru,” a Japanese-language free-ad magazine that started a year ago and costs ¥430. To overcome the problem, “Jamaru” uses a system where individual advertisements are assigned numbers, and inquirers phone or write to the magazine stating the number of the advertisement they are interested in. The magazine then passes the messages on to the person who placed the ad.

Passport-sized photographs of senders are included in some of “Jamaru” ads, which is almost entirely devoted to personal ads for friends, club events and romance. “Jamaru” is published by the “From A” company, which is a subsidiary of Recruit, a major publisher of employment information magazines. The magazine sells more than 400,000 copies a month. In January, it is expanding its business to include four regional editions.”These days, there is so much information available that it has become difficult to find what you are liiking for. We wanted to allow the public to advertise for the information they wanted,” said Onoki. “With the consumption tax rising this year and having to pay for (large item) gargage pickup in Tokyo, people’s interest in buying and selling second-hand goods has been heightened,”said Onoki of “Jamaru.”

By Miranda Loney, Asahi Evening News.