Kurt Hanson: Report from Tokyo Part 3

RAIN founding editor Kurt Hanson is reporting from Tokyo, where he is surveying the tech, culture, and audio landscapes. This is his third report. See the first report here, and the second report here.

Rooftop gardens and seasonal assets

KH - rooftop dining

In summertime, the roofs of many department stores (and some other buildings) become beer gardens. Great idea!

It turns otherwise-unused real estate into a few million dollars’ worth of revenues each year (as a typical location holds hundreds of people and sells a $40 all-you-can-eat-and-drink special), burnishes the brand of the store, and creates a great seasonal tradition (coincidentally, in the months of the year almost exactly opposite to Christmas).

Regarding your radio station or music service: Is there something clever and seasonal you can do with your current assets?

(For an example, it occurs to me that while AccuRadio’s Christmas channels are very popular, we might be able to something similar in the opposite side of the year, like an “AccuRadio Summer Jazz Festival.”)

Izikayas and distinctive niches

KH - torikizoku ad for 280 yen 250wWhen I visited Japan more frequently in the 1990s, one of the hottest restaurant chains, with prominent locations in all major intersections, was called Tengu. (Its name was not on its signs in Roman characters — you had to look for a cartoon face of a red mask with a long, Bob Hope-like ski-nose.)

Tengu was, I believed, the leader in the category of restaurants called “izakayas” (literally, drinking places), which feature small-plate food items designed to go along with your multiple steins of beer or lemon or grapefruit sour cocktails (or, in classier izakayas, cold sake served in small wooden boxes).

Tengu is a generalist, in a sense, offering everything from sashimi, yakitori (grilled items on a stick), casserole dishes, small salads, and vegetable side dishes (e.g., “butter corn”) to “saikori steak” (cubes of delicisous sirloin served in a sizzling platter with a mound if ground garlic.)

Nowadays, Tengu is hard to even find, as it appears to have been supplanted by lots of specialist izakaya brands — i.e., specializing in a subset of the cuisine (e.g., seafood or “giant yakitori”) or by style or price point.

One of my favorite new izakaya subcategory concepts that I discovered this trip is the “280 yen” price point izakaya.

KH - 280 yen izakaya

In other words, everything on the menu — food items, draft beer (a/k/a “nama biiru,” or fresh beer), cocktails (e.g., fresh grapefruit cocktails, where the half-grapefruit and juicer is served with your drink) whatever — is priced ¥280 each.

And, as you see in the photo above, there are competing chains at the ¥280 price point… and even at least one I saw at the ¥270 price point!

This is a business pattern to note — the legacy generalist brand being supplanted by more modern specialist brands.

If you’re up against a generalist, find your distinctive niche!

Kurt Hanson