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Ikea returns to Aichi after 1970s department store presence proved hard fit

Chunichi Shimbun

Swedish furniture giant Ikea opened a new store Oct. 11 in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, but few know that 45 years ago it had an outlet in a department store in the Meieki district of Nagoya.

Ikea launched the outlet in the Meitetsu department store in 1972. It was popular among young women who saw it as a visionary store offering a new lifestyle in which furniture was part of fashion.

The department store introduced Ikea as one of the highlights of Meitetsu Seven, an annex targeting the younger generation.

Meitetsu was one of the first department stores anywhere in Japan to introduce Ikea. The Scandinavian retailer also opened a store in the Tokyu department store in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, around the same time.

Katsutoshi Kanamori, 72, a former employee at Meitetsu Department Store Co. who was involved in the plan to introduce Ikea, said the company “matched the concept of the Seven annex — A World Where the Wind of Freedom Blows.”

“It was a time when the young generation broke stereotypes and enjoyed their own lives,” he added.

When traditional Japanese chests of drawers made of paulownia wood and low tea tables were prevailing, the company’s furniture made of white pine combined with primary-color fabric was completely new.

Women’s fashion magazines non-no and an an put together feature stories, introducing the outlet as a one-stop shop to purchase Scandinavian-style furniture in uniform design.

The store attracted droves of women in their 20s. But consumers faced one problem. Most Ikea furniture items needed to be assembled by the customer.

It was a foreign concept at the time. Since Japanese expected the articles to be delivered as a complete product, the store received many complaints from customers saying they did not know what to do with the boards and brackets they had received.

“Sometimes the shop’s staff had to assemble and deliver them,” Kanamori recalled.

Despite Ikea’s popularity, it was not a good fit for department stores. Large furniture items took up a lot of display floor space.

“We were at least able to introduce the concept of Ikea, so we fulfilled our role in that regard,” the department store operator said when it announced the closing of the Ikea store in June 1981 after 9½ years of operation.

Now 35 years later, Ikea has returned to Aichi.

“I’m sure Ikea has maintained its simple Scandinavian design, so I think I’ll feel very nostalgic” in visiting the store in Nagakute, Kanamori said.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun, and usually appears on Tuesdays. It is appearing on Wednesday this week because of Sunday’s election coverage. The original article was published Oct. 14.