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The Times March 07, 2006
Steamed up over law that bans kettles and guitars
From Leo Lewis in Tokyo
IT TAKES effect on April 1, but for a nation of baffled shopkeepers it is far from a joke. Indeed, even the most restrained Japanese newspapers are calling it the “worst law ever”.
The Product Safety of Electrical Items (PSE) law will make second-hand sales of most kinds of electrical appliance made before 2001 illegal unless it passes a safety test often more expensive than the product itself.
The legislation will apply to around 500 kinds of electrical product, and could spell disaster for Japan’s 300,000 second-hand and specialist antique stores who do business worth around £500 million a year.
The trade in everything from antique standard lamps and vintage radios to retro video games and old fridges will either vanish completely, or become prohibitively expensive for the ordinary citizen.
Hardest hit will be Japan’s vibrant trade in electrical instruments — a trade which has given thousands of young musicians their start in life, and without which, say furious veterans of the music industry, artistic expression will die.
The draconian law has been roundly attacked by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Oscar-winning composer who has led a petition of 74,500 enraged musicians and tradesmen demanding that the law be toned down and the critical trade in old recording equipment, amplifiers and synthesisers continue.
Hideki Matsutake, another composer and chairman of the Japan Synthesizer Programmers Association said: “Most musicians start with very little money. The second-hand instrument is absolutely vital. This law will destroy the ambitions of young people and young musicians.”
A retailer will be allowed to pay to have items officially stamped with the PSE seal (like the British Kitemark). But the test can cost anywhere from £30 for a simple item such as a kettle to £300. Dealers will face up to a year in prison and a fine of about £500,000 if caught selling an un-tested vintage Les Paul guitar or a Space Invaders machine that has not passed its PSE. The Government’s abject failure to publicise the law has fuelled the public’s anger. Although it was passed in 2001 very few retailers of second-hand goods, let alone shoppers, knew until last week what it entailed.
Responsibility for that lies with the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) which printed hundreds of thousands of information pamphlets, but failed to distribute them properly.
Shinichiro Fukushima, Deputy Director of Meti, admitted to The Times that the public information campaign had been inadequate, and that his office has been buckling under the strain of hundreds of outraged calls every day.
Fearing imminent ruin, Shingo Seki, manager of the Kurosawa Secondhand Musical Instruments Centre, has halved his prices. “I only heard about this law in January in the paper, I don’t remember Meti telling us anything,” he said.
With just three weeks until “judgment day” second-hand instrument shops, retro video games shops, antique lighting stores and antique gadget emporia are slashing prices by absurd margins, fearing that their stock will become worthless overnight. And because it will not be illegal to own a non-PSE product, customers are indulging in a buying frenzy.
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