Mobile truck stores filling void in shrinking suburbs

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

As the population shrinks in Tokyo’s outskirts and stores close down, some businesses are spotting a niche for mobile stores operating from the back of delivery trucks.

The stalls can be a boon for elderly people, who find it hard otherwise to obtain their groceries.

On Tuesday, Yoshiya Corp., a supermarket chain operator in Itabashi Ward, launched a vendor-van service that delivers right to a customer’s doorstep. The vehicle stocks about 300 products, from meat and sashimi to candy and fruit. It also holds everyday necessities such as toilet paper and detergent.

Twice a week the “tokushimaru-go” van drives two routes within Itabashi collecting customers’ shopping lists and delivering goods on the following run.

Furthermore, the service could provide valuable contact with people who might otherwise get no visitors.

“We are collaborating with the Itabashi Municipal Government and Itabashi Police Station, so that the van can also serve as a patrol van for the local community,” said Yoshiya mobile stores manager Fumiyoshi Tanaka.

“In the future, we hope the van can provide another community service by checking on elderly customers to see how they are getting along.”

An estimate released in May 2010 by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said 6 million people in Japan aged 60 or older said they had trouble shopping for daily necessities. The ministry said this was the result of stores closing as the population ages and shrinks, especially in rural areas.

Acknowledging the problem of “kaimono jakusha” (people who have trouble shopping), the ministry launched a project in 2013 to help local municipalities deal with the problem. The project involves offering government subsidies for initiatives to launch mobile shops, delivery services or small neighborhood stores.

A total of 37 firms, nonprofit organizations and industrial associations were chosen to help the municipalities develop and operate their own projects.

For example, last November Keio Corp. launched a mobile store in Tama district, western Tokyo. A two-ton truck calls five days a week at 15 different locations, mainly around the Tama New Town area. It carries around 300 products, ranging from fresh food to bento boxes and flowers, and prices are similar to those in regular Keio Store supermarkets.

The firm recognized a need after a local Daimaru Peacock supermarket closed in 2010. When that happened, there was “less access to shopping . . . and thus the mobile stall should help to make the area more shopping-friendly,” said a Keio spokeswoman.

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