One weekday afternoon in January, an elderly woman dropped by Tokushima Ai-ai Plaza in Tokyo’s Minato Ward just to pick up a package of boiled and dried baby sardines and fish paste.
This is not at all unusual at the Tokushima Prefecture outlet.
Located close to the government office districts of Kasumigaseki and Toranomon, the outlet acts as a grocery store providing Tokushima delicacies, from both the sea and the land.
The plaza also features expensive items, including dyed indigo goods and bamboo work, as well as pottery and woodcraft.
About 200 items are neatly displayed in the 48.57-sq.-meter store on the second floor of the prefecture’s Toranomon Building. About 70 percent of the items are foodstuffs.
A computer terminal is available for visitors to access the Internet, while a number of brochures providing information about Tokushima as well as sightseeing maps and tourist guides are on hand.
“Some people stop by during the day or on their way home in the evening to buy daily goods, such as tubular rolls of boiled fish paste, at reasonable prices,” said Katsumi Fukuoka, secretary of the Tokushima Prefecture Products Association, which runs Ai-ai plaza.
“Foreigners who are visiting Japan and Japanese people who are going abroad also come to purchase traditional items, such as sets of bamboo dolls or dyed-indigo ‘noren’ (curtains) or ‘somue’ cotton clothes traditionally worn by monks,” Fukuoka said.
A variety of other dyed-indigo products, ranging from neckties, handkerchiefs and hats to cushion covers, are popular with individuals and companies as summer and end-of-year presents, along with local brands of sake, boxed “wakame” seaweed, “sudachi” citrus fruit and Naruto Kintoki sweet potatoes, he said.
Noted for their sweetness and smooth texture, Naruto Kintoki potatoes are most commonly used as ingredients in top-quality confectionary, Fukuoka added.
Prices range from around 200 yen to 5,000 yen for food items, while high-end bamboo work, pottery and dyed-indigo clothes are priced between 10,000 yen and 40,000 yen.
The shop was moved in September 1996 from inside the Daimaru department store at JR Tokyo Station to its current site to continue to serve as an information hub for the prefecture, promoting local industries and businesses and expanding their market in the metropolitan area.
Ai-ai Plaza provides 11 work booths for local firms to use as their Tokyo offices. Seven small and medium-size firms from Tokushima are currently utilizing the facilities.
To supplement its existing information channels, such as newspapers, magazines and PR activities at various exhibitions, the shop will set up a Web site by the end of March, Fukuoka said.
Hit hard by the prolonged recession and falling sales of summer and yearend gifts, particularly among companies, annual sales at the plaza have dropped from around 40 million yen in 1995 to 25 million yen a year today, he said.
“We want more and more people to visit us, to take our crafts and foods in their hands and feel the nature of Tokushima,” Fukuoka said. “Tokushima is a rural prefecture and thus rich in nature, producing seaweed in the whirling Naruto current and indigo plants in the fertile soil beside the Yoshino River.”
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