'CASUAL WAR'

Discount chains thrive amid Ginza’s chic boutiques

by Kaho Shimizu

With the end of the year just around the corner, Christmas shoppers visiting Tokyo’s posh Ginza commercial district may find a new aspect to the area this winter.

Amid the nation’s worst economic slump, discount chain stores have made inroads to this high-end shopping area, aiming to lure more customers from the world-renowned brand labels and the established traditional shops that have dominated the area.

One example is Ginza Hyakkaten, a temporary outlet opened in early November across from the Louis Vuitton store by the Daiei Inc. supermarket chain.

The shop will only operate for 100 days through mid-February, offering goods at exceptionally low prices.

Daiei hopes to use the store to promote its fashion items. According to Masaru Sano, who is in charge of promoting Daiei’s lineup, the specialty store sold 1,000 fleece jackets priced at 900 yen apiece in the first three days. It sold 1,400 suits — they come in only two prices: 9,000 yen and 19,000 yen — in the first 10 days.

“We select highly recommended products from our stores and sell them at this shop in Ginza,” he said.

Sano said the first reaction of shoppers was amazement at the shop’s low prices.

Though all goods sold this store are available at most other Daiei outlets for the same price, shoppers come all the way to Ginza to buy the same goods, he said.

“It is probably because of the self-satisfaction that shoppers feel when they purchase something in this prestigious area,” Sano said.

Ryohin Keikaku Co. opened a huge Mujirushi (Muji) Ryohin Store on Nov. 1, offering various products for everyday life ranging from kitchenware to clothes for reasonable prices near JR Yurakucho Station. The outlet is often compared with Daiei’s Ginza Hyakkaten because it is only a few hundreds meters away.

The two stores, along with the casual-fashion discounter Uniqlo, which also set up a store in Ginza in March, have gained attention, and the competition among the three was at once dubbed the “Ginza casual war” by a major daily newspaper.

“Ginza lacked shops selling daily necessaries (at reasonable prices),” said Shingo Kawanokami, manager of the Yurakucho Muji store, and the company decided to open the outlet to offer such products in this area and to promote its brand.

More casual-fashion chains are arriving in Ginza. Sportswear manufacturer Adidas Japan K.K. set up a four-story retail store on Dec. 1, selling sneakers for as low as 2,700 yen.

However, it is too early to say Ginza no longer enjoys its status as a posh shopping district.

Many of the world’s famed brand labels, including Cartier, Hunting World, Christian Dior, Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo, have flagship stores here, including French brand Hermes, which opened a new store in Ginza in June. On opening day, more than 700 people lined up to buy exclusive products sold only for the opening.

Ekizo Sode, a commercial development consultant, described this phenomenon as the polarization of purchasing trends, in which both expensive and low-priced goods are favored by a single consumer.

“Ginza is the shopping district where people with all kinds of demand gather,” said Tetsuya Taya, president and CEO of Taya Co., which operates six beauty salons in Ginza, including two recently opened salons named Shampoo that are remarkably successful, with many customers waiting in lines outside.

At the new Shampoo salons, customers cannot make a reservation or request a particular designer. But they can get a haircut in less than 10 minutes for as little as 1,800 yen.

When the company launched its first shop in 1998, Shampoo was originally targeting families in suburban areas. But when it opened its 12th salon in Ginza in April 2000, Shampoo’s three fundamental concepts — speed, low price and reliability — caught on with busy cosmopolitan women and its popularity surged.

Taya emphasized that the company has four different salons in Ginza that provide high-end services as well, and its full range of salons are there to meet every demand of the people in the neighborhood.

“Ginza has always been a district that offers a wide variety of choice to satisfy every consumer,” and that is what makes it attractive, he added.

Taiji Kikuchi, master of Ginza Kunoya, a kimono accessories shop dating back 164 years, shares the same view with Taya, welcoming not only those discount chains but also all new entrants to the area.

“Ginza is the ultimate destination for many merchants” who strive to compete with one another, Kikuchi said, noting that newcomers help to improve the district.

Kikuchi said that while Ginza has maintained its traditional aspects, with many old shops like Ginza Kunoya still in business in the area, it has always been open to new businesses.

Newcomers must be able to survive the competition to gain a foothold. There are quite a few shops and companies, including British drugstore chain Boots Co., that initially captured attention but disappeared in a relatively short time.

Japan’s major discount drug store, Matsumotokiyoshi Co., which is located close to where Boots once stood, seems to have won the fierce competition.

Then there’s the McDonald’s Co. (Japan) outlet that opened in Ginza in 1971 as the hamburger chain’s first in this country. The Ginza outlet, though it has been moved from its original place, is still a popular draw.

“Ginza embraces diversity without losing its traditions and originality. This is what differentiates it from other shopping districts,” Kikuchi said.