Known for its high-end boutiques and brand-name stores, Tokyo’s Ginza district is also home to more than a dozen shops promoting delicacies and cultural products unique to various prefectures.
In a half-day spent exploring these “furusato” (hometown) antenna shops, one can experience a wide variety of regional treats that come from as far afield as Hokkaido and Okinawa.
The growing popularity of these stores isn’t confined to people who hail from those places and miss the taste of home.
Akiko Mori, 75, is a Tokyo native but often shops at Iwate Ginga Plaza, Iwate Prefecture’s specialty shop located midway between central Ginza and the Tsukiji fish market.
“Many of my neighbors are from rural areas and they often bring me gifts from their hometowns. But because I grew up in Tokyo, there aren’t any local specialty goods to give them in return,” Mori, holding two paper bags full of purchases, said during a recent visit to the store. “So I come here to shop (for them).”
Sometimes students and office workers who have forgotten to buy the customary “omiyage” treats for family and colleagues during their school excursions or business trips to Iwate stop by to pick something up after returning to Tokyo, the shop’s public relations representative, Chikako Otake, said.
Toshinori Kikuchi, who heads a quasi-public company to promote products from the Iwate city of Kamaishi, recently held a three-day event at the store to sell sake, canned and dried seafood, and other goods from the tsunami-ravaged city. It was the second time he had done so since the March 11 disaster.
“Due to the devastation, we still have relatively few items to offer from Kamaishi, but thanks to this antenna shop in Tokyo, we can bring whatever we have to sell here,” said Kikuchi, who himself barely survived the tsunami. “The warm support we receive here in Tokyo is a great encouragement for my staff and other local businesses back home.”
Kikuchi added that being able to exhibit the actual products to Tokyo customers at the shop has also helped boost online sales.
Adjacent to JR Yurakucho Station on the periphery of the Ginza district, Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza offers small firms the opportunity to test-market their products for at least three months at the shop.
Those that prove popular will be given a permanent spot on the shelves and often catch the attention of retailers, including major department stores in Tokyo. Competition is tough, with only about five or six products out of 100 ever making it.
“Local companies would never get this kind of opportunity if they were just selling their products at train stations in Hokkaido, for example,” sales representative Tomohiro Kaneko said. He added that the shop provides manufacturers with feedback and advice on how to improve their products to better cater to market needs.
Benefitting from their convenient locations in Ginza, some of the more well-known specialty shops, like the Iwate store and Okinawa’s Ginza Washita Shop, have recently become must-see destinations on some guided tours organized by travel agencies, drawing both domestic and foreign tourists, the operators said.
Often considered the pioneer of regional satellite shops, the Okinawa store in 1994 was the first to open in Ginza and remains one of the most popular — attracting an average of about 4,000 visitors a day and racking up annual sales of about ¥1 billion.
With the shop’s interior designed to resemble a typical local market in the island prefecture, staff dressed in “kariyushi,” the traditional Okinawan attire that resemble Hawaiian aloha shirts, greet visitors with energetic shouts of “mensore,” the word for welcome in the Okinawan dialect.
“We want to let customers in Tokyo experience the vibrant atmosphere of Okinawa’s local markets — to feel like you’re in Okinawa without actually traveling there,” said store manager Naoki Fujiwara.
The shop offers around 5,500 items, ranging from fresh produce rarely seen outside the prefecture and Okinawa’s “awamori” liquor, to musical instruments and cosmetics.
Next door is Kochi Prefecture’s Marugoto Kochi, one of the more recently opened specialty shops.