Running for the train? Not so fast. According to a trend report released by @Press, Japanese people are spending more time browsing in train stations instead of bolting through them. PR flacks are calling this shopping experience “ekitame,” combining the words eki (station) and entame (entertainment), to refer to the station shopping mall as an entertaining destination in its own right. Focusing on the continuing success of Tokyo Station’s First Avenue mall, the report hints that this shopping complex may be the shape of things to come.
Instead of just being a convenient place for commuters to kill time, this station mall exploits the fact that tourists from all around the country pass through Tokyo Station. Two areas of First Avenue are particularly adept at attracting tourists: One is Tokyo Ramen Street, which has eight outlets operated by famous Tokyo ramen shops; and the other is Tokyo Character Street, which houses over 20 big-name character goods stores.
Over the years, speciality food theme parks have proved popular in other shopping malls in Japan, such as Gyoza Stadium, Ice Cream City and Dessert Republic in Sunshine City Ikebukuro. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that Ramen Street has proved a hit since it opened in April last year. It is attractive to Tokyo day-trippers who might not have the time to trek out to these famous ramen stalls, and long queues regularly form outside the shops. But it’s Tokyo Character Street that’s proved the biggest hit. Since it opened in 2008, around 5 million visitors have checked out the array of character stores, which include Hello Kitty Land and the NHK Character Shop, and this March three more stores opened here.
Looking to raise its profile as a tourist destination, First Avenue will launch a new area called Tokyo Okashi (Snack) Land on April 14. Comprised of three “antenna shops” (outlets used by companies to gauge public reaction to trial products) from major Japanese food brands Calbee, Glico and Morinaga, the area will entice visitors with limited edition souvenir sweets and the chance to see confectionery being made in the store.
We think the idea of ekitame might just catch on at other major transport hubs where tourists passing through have the spare time to enjoy browsing in specialty stores. And adding the station to the sightseeing itinerary is certainly an attractive option to the footsore tourist.