National Azabu Tokyo
When National Azabu supermarket closed its doors in Hiroo, Tokyo, in October 2011, there were a lot of despondent shoppers, both among the foreign and Japanese community.
Well, the good news is that it was a temporary closure to rebuild the 50-year-old building. The parent company is National Bussan which is owned by Tohoku Shinsha. It operates two National Azabu stores in Hiroo and Denenchofu.
The Hiroo National Azabu reopens on Aug 31 in the same location, but a pre-opening period began on Aug 17, open to National Azabu point card holders only.
These are busy days for Japanese-Canadian store manager Dale Toriumi who is making sure everything is in place for the grand opening. Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits him to hear what we can expect from the new store.
Why did the store close last Oct 31?
There was a lot of speculation but the reason was that the building was too old. It was over 50 years old. At the time, the parent company did say they would make a new store, and here we are.
What was the reaction from shoppers?
I received a lot of mails from overseas, from Europe and the United States, from customers who used to live in Japan. Everyone was surprised, including our customers here, too, because it was all very sudden.
Had there been a drop in foreign customers after the March 11 disaster?
There was a drop immediately after the March 11 disaster but there was an increase in domestic customers. Every food product we sell has the point of origin clearly labelled, so Japanese customers were looking for food security. Our chicken comes from Miyazaki, natural meat from Mexico, Australia, the United States, Canada. Vegetables are coming from as far south as possible.
More Japanese are looking for products made elsewhere. For example, our frozen food from Europe and the U.S has always sold very well. Our organic baby food from France and the U.S. was popular.
What can we expect at the new store?
It will be three stories. It will be made out of steel as opposed to concrete. We’ll have the same valet parking. Our main new attraction will be a delicatessen counter with barbecued chicken. There will be Baskin Robbins on the first floor. The 2nd floor has household items and a bookstore. On third floor there is a hair salon.
I notice Felix the Cat everywhere.
Felix is our mascot. He’s on our shopping bags, posters and so on.
How are you getting the word out about the reopening?
We are doing some advertising in English magazines as well as putting inserts in newspapers. We have a homepage that needs a little bit more work. We are on Facebook (English) and Twitter (Japanese). People have been very excited in the lead-up. On Facebook, I post what’s happening, new merchandise and comments or questions from customers.
What are National Azabu’s strengths?
We are a family supermarket. Customers have commented that it is more of a community where they meet people. When I get to know a customer, I know what they are driving, sometimes when their kids’ birthdays are. We have events such as the annual Halloween party in the parking lot. That keeps us different from our competition.
Can we order online?
You can order online but only in Japanese at this stage. Hopefully, you’ll be able to do it in English because we do have customers all over Japan. Right now, they phone their orders to us. We’ve sent green bananas down to Nagoya, turkeys to other parts of Japan.
What is your role?
A bit of everything. I help park cars, help at the register, in the meat department, fixing something if it is broken. I know a lot of customers and like to chat with them.