Sunday, 9 October 2011

Buying lights

Just spent about 300,000 yen on lights and fittings for the house. It took most of my Sunday morning.

It seemed like a good idea to get these directly for three reasons. Mainly, getting light fittings straight from the internet saves money. The builders charge at least 80% of the list price, passed on from the electricians. You can usually get lights for about 40% of list price on the internet. So this should have saved a fair bit. There is probably some hidden cost somewhere, and the electricians may charge extortionate corkage.

I used, which is a site for finding mostly electrical goods. This usually took me to a merchant on, which is a large online shopping site, the Amazon of the East. I also searched directly on Rakuten. 

The process of choosing lights was a labourious one. Different manufacturers have huge numbers of subtly different products. One of the big electrical manufacturers in Japan brought out 120 new LED fittings in April. 

The main numbers that can be compared are wattage, lumens, CRI, angle of beam and price. They seem to be getting better, but in some cases, some of the figures were missing for some manufacturers.  Of course design is also an issue, especially for brackets and spots, but for down lights there's not much to chose from.

We want lights that will come on and switch off automatically in seven places around the house: the entrance, the kitchen, the utility room, the bottom part of the staircase, the top part of the staircase and the two toilets. In terms of design we wanted single fittings that included a light and a sensor, but at first these were not available with LED fittings, and we needed separate sensors to the lights. Since then, Koizumi brought out single-fitting light sensors, which came out a little cheaper than buying lights and sensors separately, and superior in terms of installation and design.

All of these decisions went into drawing up the list of fittings over the past six months, with a lot of help from the architect who found a lot of them. I had been talking about LEDs for the previous 18 months, mostly to derision,as I mentioned before. There are many calculations showing that it's not worth switching to LED, but those are mostly out of date already, and if not will be very soon.

The revolution in lighting design, heralded on Panasonic's webpages with their snippets of useful information, does not yet seem to have brought many revolutionary products, although it's early days.

I decided to stick to the lights we'd chosen on the list we talked to the electrician about at the end of August. I'm sure in the interim some better ones have come out. Some of the prices had dropped since then. 

I managed to find almost all the lights from one merchant, Prizuma, which had the cheapest every time. Things were going well until I hit the "next" button with my full shopping cart, and went onto the instructions to pay. No space to enter credit cards. Bank transfers or cash-on-delivery only.

Another reason for getting the lights myself, rather than putting them into the builder's invoice, was that I can pay for them with a credit card. Part of the financing, unfortunately, is coming from sterling. At the moment, the value of sterling seems to be falling in the same direction at the cost of LEDs is, but that is another story, that I shall tell sooner or later, with great pain.

One way of getting sterling into yen is to buy things on a UK bank credit card. The credit card companies charge something for the exchange, although it's often less than the banks charge, and there is no transfer fee. 

So, having spent the whole morning getting all the LEDs lined up into the order for Prizuma, to no avail, I had to go back to Rakuten and find other merchants who would take credit cards. This didn't take as long, now that all the lights were decided.

That was not the end of the story, as Rakuten still had my old credit card on their records, which expired last January.  

Buying things online has got a little easier in recent years, with auto fill in functions and websites that will remember data you entered on their forms. I remember my first experiences having to completely re-enter several pages of forms, several times, for example for missing out a hyphen from the middle of a telephone number. I also remember having problems on Japanese sites with my name, as it did not contain any Chinese characters, which the field required. 

When I went back to try to correct the credit card expiry date, I noticed some recommended purchases, which Rakuten bases on what I've been buying, in much the same way that Amazon does. The number one recommendation was medicated scalp-d shampoo for oily hair. Something surely wrong with their algorithm.

I sent the new card details in, but since got a message that the payment had been refused, so I had to call my bank in the UK and ask them very nicely to let me use my money. They quite often query payments made in Japan, even though I've lived here for over a decade.

The lights should all arrive in the next couple of days, which will be exciting!