In tough economic times, shops will need something special to keep customers. Monocle’s new star retailers are a supermarket with a concierge, a childrenswear store with staff chosen for their childcare skills, and a bookshop that stocks back issues of magazines.
01: Kinokuniya International
To the delight of local residents, Tokyo’s oldest supermarket, Kinokuniya, which first opened in Aoyama in 1953, has returned from a temporary sojourn half a mile up the road. Now that the redevelopment of its original site is complete, Kinokuniya is back on Aoyama Street.
Kinokuniya has always led the way for other supermarkets in Japan. It was the first to introduce everything from trolleys and eco bags to foreign food fairs (still a regular event). But regulars will be pleased to find that the new shop’s old-fashioned charm hasn’t been tinkered with. Favourites such as German apple pie are still on the shelves, the uniformed staff are as polite as ever and the quality of the food remains unchanged. The updated Kinokuniya has more of a department store food-hall feel, with separate counters for different produce, together with an excellent wine cellar.
Kinokuniya is not bargain basement shopping but if you’re looking for freshly sliced San Daniele prosciutto, French cheeses and the best supermarket fruit in Tokyo, then it’s hard not to be drawn to this culinary institution. All that and your bags are packed neatly for you at the till, and hard-working store manager Masahide Kimura is always on hand to keep an eye on proceedings. One new feature is Il Primario, a bar where shoppers can pause for a coffee or a glass of champagne, and a pastry from the in-house bakery.
In keeping with the Japanese love of a good retail collaboration, Kinokuniya’s selection of nylon shopping bags (the regulars all have them) has been boosted by a new canvas range created with Orobianco from Italy. Finally, this must also be the only supermarket in the world to have a designated “gift advisor” and a concierge desk.
02: Book 1st
With the opening of its new flagship store, Book 1st has given Shinjuku office workers the perfect venue to while away their lunch hours. Located in the basement levels of the new Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower – a 50-storey landmark building designed by Tange Associates – this is a bumper-sized outlet for the Osaka chain, which now has 44 stores across Japan.
The new Book 1st is laid out in seven sections (from A to G) across 3,600 sq m with computers to help customers with navigation and a soothing jazz-lite soundtrack in the background. There are 900,000 books in stock and a decent selection in English, but the highlight is the Tokyo Magazine Center which has a staggering 5,000 titles – Japanese and international – covering everything from sumo to shiba dogs. Best of all, they keep a stock of back issues, so if you missed the last Casa Brutus or Ku:nel, you’ll find it here.
Book 1st Shinjuku offers a delivery service and will wrap each book with an extra dust jacket. The computer navi system informs you of the best-selling books of the day, and staff give their recommendations. Upstairs is the café-gallery space, Blue Square Café, run by the ever-reliable Transit. book1st.net
03: Kodomo Beans
After dressing Japanese adults for 30 years, Beams has now opened its first baby and children’s store, Kodomo Beams (Kids’ Beams) in Daikanyama. “Our regular customers became fathers and mothers, and so have our staff,” says store manager, Keiko Kamide. “We just had so many requests to open this store.”
The shop is part of a Beams compound, which is also home to the B Jirushi Yoshida (bags), Mangart Beams T (T-shirts), Merrier Beams (maternity) and Ray Beams (women’s). Kodomo Beams, which has the feel of a cosy wood-panelled nursery, stocks brands such as Pony Go Round, Loopwheeler and Talc, which have all been picked for using quality natural materials. The look is sensibly fashionable, allowing children to be children and not pint-sized fashion victims: tunics, cotton shirts and warm anoraks. Other products include own- brand organic baby-gros, child-friendly wooden tableware and eco-friendly toys.
Foreign brands that complement the selection include tights from Falke and leather shoes from Franco-Argentine brand Victor et Victorine. The staff have been chosen for their childcare skills and they have all been trained to fit shoes correctly.
01 Caravan coffee 02 Shinano red apple juice (Kinokuniya premium brand) 03 Kinokuniya honey Castella cake 04 Bailly Lapierre organic Crémant de Bourgogne 05 Yamagata wagyu sirloin
01 ‘Sumu’ slow life quarterly magazine 02 ‘Tokyo Michelin Guide 2009’ 03 ‘The Japanese House in Space, Memory and Language’ by Nakagawa Takeshi 04 ‘Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers’ by Leonard Koren 05 ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’by Haruki Murakami