When it comes to local specialties, Kobe has much to boast about — Kobe beef, Kobe wine and famed confectionery, to name but a few.

Indeed, Kobe may have too much when it comes to selecting items to showcase at a specialty shop. As a result, amid this cornucopia of local wares, the city decided it would mainly feature ladies’ shoes at its Kobe Brand Plaza in Tokyo — a total of 17 brands made by 10 local shoemakers.

Living up to its reputation as a fashionable city, the store is located inside a three-story fashion complex in the high-class Daikanyama district of Shibuya Ward.

“The city had no intention of presenting this place as a typical specialty shop, where mainly local food specialties are displayed,” said store manager Ichiro Uchida, an employee of Tokyo-based temp staff provider The R Co., which is entrusted with the store’s operations.

The idea of promoting shoes at the shop came as a means to enhance Kobe’s “fashionable and high-society” image, Uchida said.

It is also aimed at helping one of the city’s key industries get back on its feet. Kobe shoemakers suffered greatly from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which destroyed their factories in Nagata Ward, which was hit particularly hard.

Ready-made shoes range in price from 5,900 yen to 30,000 yen. Equipped with three-dimensional measuring instruments, the store sells custom-made shoes: 25,000 yen for women and 19,000 yen for men.

“Many customers say Kobe brand shoes are comfortable,” Uchida said.

Handbags, confectionery and pouches of curry are also available at the shop, along with free shopping and sightseeing brochures about Kobe.

Shop assistants jot down the information they gather from conversations with customers as well as their observations on the streets of central Tokyo, and send such data together with sales reports back to manufacturers in Kobe on a daily basis, according to Uchida.

The shop, initially located in the Omotesando district of Minato Ward, was originally scheduled to operate for three years. But because the shoes proved so popular, Kobe Brand Plaza relocated to its current site in April when the lease on the original location expired.

Whether good or bad, all the feedback from customers comes in handy for shoemakers back in Kobe to keep themselves up to date with consumers’ tastes, Uchida said.

Helped by Kobe Brand Plaza’s efforts, some shoemakers have successfully branched out in Tokyo.

Kawano opened an outlet under the brand name Barclay inside the newly opened Marunouchi Building, while Oriental Seika recently set up an office with a view to opening a shop, Uchida said.

Backed by its popularity, Kobe Brand Plaza is now planning to deal in apparel made in Kobe to promote young and budding designers, according to Uchida.

“The domestic fashion industry is being overwhelmed by a wave of cheap products from China and big-name brands from Italy,” he said. “We want to get more people to choose made-in-Japan, if not made-in-Kobe, brands.”

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