Japan’s ‘antenna’ shops get spruced up ahead of major events

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures are refining their Tokyo “antenna shops” in an effort to take advantage of next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and the fifth anniversary of the extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa.

Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures are refining their Tokyo “antenna shops” — stores that showcase local specialties in major cities — in an effort to take advantage of next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and the fifth anniversary of the extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa. The renovations are aimed at attracting more customers and promoting local businesses.

Eyeing Hokuriku anniversary

 Ishikawa Prefecture’s antenna shop in the Ginza district of Tokyo, called Ishikawa Hyakumangoku Monogatari Edo Honten, began undergoing a large-scale renovation set to last about five months on Oct. 8. The project aims to strengthen the shop’s offerings ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Hokuriku Shinkansen next March and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer.

 Hyakumangoku Monogatari opened in October 2014. It had attracted about 1.22 million visitors and generated sales of ¥1.22 billion as of the end of fiscal 2018. However, the shop has suffered sluggish sales in recent years as more and more prefectures and municipalities have opened antenna shops in the Ginza and Yurakucho districts, transforming the area into a fierce battleground of competition.

 “It’s not all about sales,” said an Ishikawa prefectural government official. “However, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t care about how the other local governments are doing.” 

 Ishikawa’s renovated antenna shop is scheduled to open in late February. JR East Marketing and Communications Inc., an advertising company in the East Japan Railway Co. group, has been tapped to run the store to maximize the effects of the Hokuriku Shinkansen’s fifth anniversary. 

 The shop’s former eating space will be used for more refrigerated products, and an event space at the entrance will be widened to give visitors ample room to sample food and drinks. The shop also plans to offer local specialties and packaging available only in the Tokyo metropolitan area, to create added value and generate interest among the public.

 More signs and product information will be provided in English to cater to an expected increase in foreign visitors. There are also plans to sell the prefecture’s specialties at major JR stations so local companies can expand their sales channels. 

 “Next year is a great opportunity to publicize Ishikawa Prefecture to many people,” said a prefectural government official. We want to enliven our shop with a unique approach to keep customers interested, such as by launching events.”

Catering to tourists

 Toyama Prefecture also sees next year as an opportunity to expand sales of its products.

 The prefecture operates antenna shops in the Yurakucho and Nihonbashi districts. Iki-Iki Toyama in Yurakucho is targeted mainly at homemakers, while Nihonbashi Toyama, near the Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store, is more of an information hub that introduces higher-quality products and upscale lifestyles.

 The Nihonbashi branch has more than 1,000 food products and traditional crafts, a bar for tasting sake and a restaurant that serves seafood delivered directly from Toyama.

 To better cater to foreign customers, the branch has a tourist information booth certified by the Japan National Tourism Organization — the first such booth in an antenna shop. English-speaking staff are always on hand to introduce the store’s products and Toyama Prefecture, and to provide information about the surrounding area. With the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics just around the corner, the Nihonbashi branch plans to invite hotel concierges and embassy officials within the fiscal year to workshops in which craftsmen demonstrate traditional crafts and the food culture of the prefecture.

 “The Olympics is an opportunity to attract not only foreign visitors but also people from all over the country to Tokyo,” said a Toyama prefectural government official in charge of regional development. “We want to make the most of the strengths of each shop to make them places where many people can casually stop by.” 

More shops than ever 

 Antenna shops in Tokyo reached a record high of 76 as of April 2018 — 42 are run by prefectural governments and 34 by municipalities — or four shops more than the previous year, according to a survey by the Tokyo-based Japan Center for Regional Development, an organization that works to revitalize regional economies nationwide.

 Antenna shops have spread widely in Tokyo since Okinawa Prefecture’s Ginza Washita Shop Honten opened in 1994. Recently, many shops have opened that are specifically focused on the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

 In fiscal 2017, the number of annual visitors exceeded 1 million at four antenna shops, including Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza’s Yurakucho branch, which boasted more than 2 million visitors.

 Antenna shops have taken Tokyo by storm, with annual sales exceeding ¥700 million each at Dosanko Plaza, Washita Shop and Hiroshima Brand Shop TAU of Hiroshima Prefecture.

 “Efforts to take advantage of the Tokyo Games have obviously accelerated, although local governments differ based on what they choose to focus on, such as sales and attracting customers or promoting relocation [to the area],” said Chizuru Hatada, director of the center’s public relations office.

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