I was met on Friday night by the sales rep who covers the whole of Tokyo, worth 70% of the sales in Japan. This means that coming here and meeting with him was extremely important, because what goes in Tokyo is therefore is as important as the rest of Japan. He met me at the station from the bullet train, and we went straight to Tokyo Hands, a large department store. His English was limited, and I think that he had just been told to take me around different shops – not a problem for me although it is sometimes hard to explain exactly what I was looking for! The interaction was fairly minimal, but I could at least see the focus of the market. It is very divided, perhaps more so than in Europe with the high end making up a small portion of the sales, but being very niche. The high end is really high end though. The rest of it is commuter bikes. Perhaps this is why Shimano continues to produce Dura-Ace and XTR in Japan, to avoid the import tax for their own country – perhaps, like Campagnolo and Italy it is important for marketing reasons? Saturday was spent going to different stores again, where the apparent need for more OEM sales of our brand was obvious. I that this is something I have underestimated in the past.
Back to Friday night – we eventually got to my hotel, which was in Ginza. A quick search on the internet will throw up details of how this is the wealthy shopping area, and indeed it is where all of the designer labels, not to mention DeBeers, have shops. Considering this, the hotel was relatively modest – although the best one that I have stayed in this year. The room was comfortable but small, the mini-bar had only water in it (which was free) but the restaurant and room service were very good. We went to dinner across the road, with my host originally having a German restaurant in mind for me. This is something that I think I can understand to a certain extent. We try to accommodate our Asian guest when they visit us in Germany, by finding at least one Chinese restaurant –mind you – in my opinion, and it is just that, my own opinion, this is a wise move. German cuisine is not fancy and is pretty basic in terms of flavours and ingrediants. Stodgy a lot of the time, you have to spend a lot to get anything good. I recognise here that as an Englishman we are hardly renouned for our culinary expertise, but at least we have done something about this, by adopting the best of foreign cuisine offering huge variety, while retaining only the best of what our own has to offer. Having explained that I would like to experience Japan we went to a different restaurant, where Yozo (my host) ordered a variety of sushi, deep fried delacacies and a fair amount of beer. I returned to the same restaurant last night for two reasons. The frst one if that the waitress spoke great English (she wasn’t there though last night!) the second reason being, well, I will get to that later.
The shops we visited on Saturday were more interesting and more specialist. I was surprised that, for example, the range of brands and the cult movements are as pronounced as they are. Single speed, Surely, Spot… all present. During Saturday I came to some conclusions about Japan. Tokyo, at least. In the centre, people seem to spend a lot of time underground. Both for the subway, and in the many underground floors that make up the subway stations, as there are lots of different cafés, restaurants and shops. This gives the place a slightly depressing edge – especially when you go to lunch in a restraunt with no natural light. It is fine at night, but not for lunch. Moving out of the city centre, this improves, and the vibe is also less hectic. This brings me nicely to what is the stand-out event of my visit. My host took me to a shop called OVE.
OVE appears to be a restaurant come cookery school. It is about life style. It is really chilled, relaxed and yet warm and welcoming. It is young and fresh yet cosy and comfortable. It is a place where jaz and classical gigs are held, business meetings and parties are had. You can purchase (expensive) cooking utensils, cook books, and other aspirational items. That is what it is about. What is interesting here is that there is footage from a cycling race playing discretely on a screen and that there are Reise und Mueller bikes dotted around. They aren’t priced, they are just there. Almost like art. The idea of this seems to be that cycling is integrated and becomes part of the aspirational lifestyle that is promoted here. To take it out of the realm of being point to point and introduce it to be an activity in its own right – not just for the bike mad, but for everyone. Although it does not say so anywhere, I am informed that the lease and the interior fittings are funded by Shimano. I found all of this to be very interesting, and wonder how it would translate to different countries? It reminded me a lot of Muddock in Brisol, South West England, which combines the café culture of the city with the bike shop downstairs. This took it a step further though, because there was no onus on profit. Seeing the 30 somethings coming in to learn how to make Miso while they were being sub-conciously fed bike culture was quite a fascinating concept.
Returning alone to my hotel, I dicided that I should have a look round Tokyo a bit more. Ginza is one of the main areas. Extremely vibrant and wealthy, it was absolutely buzzing. I visited the five floor shrine to Sony and an electronics store that was completely insane.
The bright colours, flashing light and the noise. Noise of 10000 televisions playing different things, noise of 8000 mobiles, and the noise of the people and the sales staff trying to be heard above it all. It was deafening and disorientating, but highly entertaining. I returned to my hotel empty handed, and began thinking about dinner.
This is the point that the downside of business travel is apparent. I was on my own, on White Day (a day when women give their men gifts to show there love – think valentine’s day) in a foreign city where I cannot speak the language. Going to a restaurant alone is one thing. Going there, knowing you can’t read the menu, will sit on your own and that it will be a struggle is something else. I chose to go back to the place I had been the previous night for that reason. Unfortunately the same girl (with excellent English skills) was not there. The menu did have English translations though, and I had seen Puffer fish (blow fish), and wanted to try it. The waitress was extremely sweet, and brought me a little cake as a gift “for white day”. As for blowfish – well it is expensive and relatively tasteless! What would have been nice would have been a sake fuelled Karaoke session. But there is the rub – who wants to do that alone? This morning was a struggle too, getting to the airport on the airport bus. I asked six people which way I needed to go, and no one understood me. Arrogant of me perhaps to expect them to, but when you need to catch a flight, the stresses of work travel are sometimes all too familiar – oh, and the wheel broke off my cabin luggage trolley – which is hugely annoying! Enjoy the pictures….. I am in Taiwan as of this evening.