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The Tokyo Cheapo Story

SNA (Tokyo) — The Shingetsu News Agency profiles Tokyo Cheapo, a rising start-up in Japan’s travel and media world, for a video report. The full transcript is below, followed by a link to the video.

“Oh look! It’s that cheapo!”

Chris Kirkland: I suppose it’s not the highest of compliments to be called a “cheapo,” but it’s a great compliment that the site has been a success and people really like it. And also my face isn’t pasted across the site, so people don’t point at me in the street and say, “Oh look! It’s that cheapo!” So I’m quite happy with the fame and fortune — or fame more than fortune.

Greg Lane: We started it just as a blog five years ago, and we started it kind of on a whim, but we didn’t plan to fail, if you know what I mean. We kind of planned for it to be something, but it didn’t really start to look like a viable business until a few months later when it started to take off.

Chris Kirkland: The other piece of the puzzle was just me and Greg being at the right place and the right time. We had both lived in Tokyo for a number of years on a fairly meagre budget, so we had both had the experience of Tokyo not necessarily being the expensive place the world thought it was.

“We saw an opportunity to serve everyday people”

Greg Lane:  The other media in Tokyo were tending to be more lifestyle, so you had something like Tokyo Classified which started as a free rag to hock your used TV or whatever. They changed the name to Metropolis and they slowly started to creep upmarket, and so all of the kinds of media brands were trying to move up. We saw an opportunity to serve everyday people.

Chris Kirkland: Really we like to encourage people to live within their means; to be comfortable with not being rich; to be comfortable with what they have. It’s a chronic problem — it’s a catastrophic problem — of our time: Conspicuous consumption, overspending, too much consumption, straining the planet’s resources. Really the human race is in such a great position, especially the developed world. I think it’s important that people live within their means and not feel that they have to do better and earn more.

Greg Lane: “Cheapo” is someone who looks for getting the best value from something. So it’s not necessarily someone who pays the bottom dollar for everything.

Chris Kirkland: Tokyo’s an interesting city because it’s a real juxtaposition. You’ll have this brand new skyscraper next to a little shrine, and just down the road they’ll be a ramen shack. Even in a place like Ginza which are famously high astronomical rents, there’s still fairly cheap eateries.

“Why would you want to go to Tokyo and spend no money?”

Greg Lane: Some people got us immediately and others didn’t understand it. They were like, “Why would you want to go to Tokyo and spend no money? There is so much to do. Why would like to just eat onigiri all the time?” Initially I think they kind of missed the point of it, which is you can have onigiri for dinner, you can have a flesh lunch. You don’t have to live on the bread line the whole time. But as it’s grown, I think people have really worked out what we are really all about.

Chris Kirkland: The rate of change has increased.  It’s that kind of slightly exponential curve, which is often the case with growth. Things look like they are progressing linearly, but slowly that curve goes up and up. Certainly in the last two years it’s really taken off. I think we get more traffic in a day now than we got in several months in the first year.

Greg Lane: You can go somewhere and you don’t have to consume a whole lot. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have fun. In a place like Tokyo you can get a lot out of it without spending a huge amount of money. It’s the same for everywhere, I think. The best things in life are free… or cheap.

Watch the Video!