Staff writer

Mothers, fathers and children all have their days, and there is a day for respecting the elderly, covering grandfathers and grandmothers. So, why not a special day just for grandchildren?

Well, starting this year, the third Sunday of October, roughly a month after Respect-for-the-Aged Day Sept. 15, will be Grandchildren’s Day. At least according to the Japan Anniversary Association.

Unlike the day for the aged, Grandchildren’s Day is no government-authorized national holiday. It is the work of the Japan Department Stores Association. After its members agreed it would be a good idea, it registered the “holiday” with the Saku, Nagano Prefecture-based volunteer organization for a 50,000 yen fee.

And with the first Grandchildren’s Day approaching Sunday, department stores are, as one store official put it, “discreetly expectant” that it will provide a boost to what have been sluggish sales.

Indeed, the holiday gift market is something to be reckoned with, said Kiyoshi Kase, president of the anniversary association, which registers and promotes holidays.

Among the various gift-
giving holidays, Christmas is by far the most lucrative, worth 700 billion yen, followed by Valentine’s Day at 135 billion yen and Mother’s Day at 130 billion yen, according to estimates by his association.

For Grandchildren’s Day, the prospects are as yet unclear. “This is the first time, and it’s hard to estimate. But I would say it will become a market worth 10 billion yen in three to five years,” Kase said.

Of the some 800 specially recognized days in Japan each year, some 120 have been registered with the association since its establishment in April 1994. Grandchildren’s Day, registered in late August, has been attracting substantial attention, Kase claimed.

“I’ve been receiving a number of inquiries, not only from the media but from various business concerns ranging from toy makers and family restaurants to child-seat makers,” he said. “If they promote it cleverly, Grandchildren’s Day will penetrate (society) and win people’s recognition.”

Needless to say, business concerns promoting this newly created holiday seem to be eyeing the purses of the affluent elderly. Of the 1.2 quadrillion yen in assets held by Japanese individuals, some 600 trillion yen is said to belong to those aged 60 or over.

That aspect of the holiday, however, is something department stores want to keep veiled from customers.

“We’ve been having some negative responses from our customers,” said Takeshi Inoue, Isetan Co.’s general manager for public relations who also heads the JDSA’s committee for promoting Grandchildren’s Day.

“Some complain that we should be more considerate of the feelings of elderly people who do not have grandchildren, or those who are not affluent,” he said. “We cannot afford to ignore those voices.”

Thus, sales promotions have been mostly subdued, marking a striking contrast with those for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

Some stores, including Seibu Department Store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, have set up a corner displaying recommended gifts. Most, however, are simply putting up posters and so-called POP, point-of-purchase advertising stands, informing customers about the holiday and keeping their shop layout otherwise intact.

Greater focus is meanwhile being placed on events rather than sales. Some stores, for instance, are offering photo shoots for three-generation families, classes on creating and using old toys such as stilts, or displays on the differences between the lives of today’s children and their grandparent’s childhoods.

“It’s no good if we get too eager to sell. Instead, we hope to make this new holiday an opportunity for children to communicate with their grandparents,” stressed Yasushi Kanai, spokesman for Tobu Department Store.

Takaharu Masuno, general manager for promotions at Mitsukoshi’s flagship store in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi, agreed.

“Presenting holidays well can be an important way of attracting customers, and this is an area where we, department stores, should have an edge (over supermarkets or discount specialty stores)” he said. “If we manage to attract customers, I’m sure they will spend without any urging.”

For the first Grandchildren’s Day, department store officials aren’t expecting dramatic sales, but they are quite hopeful about the longer-term prospects.

Inquiries from other industries are a positive sign the holiday will achieve general acceptance in the future.

Riding on the move by department stores, Miki House, which specializes in children’s clothing, is inviting submissions of stories, photos or other forms of memories with grandchildren for publication in its monthly magazine LOVE.

Confectioners such as Fujiya and Cozy Corner will meanwhile display Grandchildren’s Day posters.

“For this year, we didn’t have much time for preparation,” Inoue of Isetan said. “We regard this year as the stage for letting people know about the new holiday.

“When Isetan began selling Valentine’s Day chocolates back in 1958 — the first such move by a Japanese department store — we sold only three pieces. And you know what it’s like today.”

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