Starbucks Now Has a Shop in Every Japanese Prefecture

Starbucks-Japan

All 47 of Japan’s prefectures are jonesing for a cup of joe. At least that’s the trend that Starbucks is banking on, as the coffee mega-chain opens its latest location in Tottori, the nation’s least populated prefecture.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the new branch opened on April 23 near the capital city’s JR Tottori Station, and features 71 seats and a drive-through window.

The article also cited this upcoming opening as the latest milestone in Starbucks’ long-percolating history in Japan. The chain first arrived here in 1996, with its debut location—unsurprisingly—located in Tokyo. Since then, the coffee purveyors have brewed up 1,073 branches across the country.

Other articles have outlined just how special that trajectory has been. Btrax.com, for instance, points out that Japan was the first foreign country to snag openings of the beloved American franchise two decades ago, only to see it become the largest coffee chain in the country, with a 48 percent market share and an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent, along with a 14.3 percent increase in revenue over the past five years.

That potential for prosperity was evident only a few short years after the Seattle-born coffee superstar’s arrival in Japan. A 2001 New York Times article detailed how Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz knew the coffee shops would be successful in the Land of the Rising Sun when he saw the line of more than a hundred caffeine-fixated customers queued up for their first cup before the 6:30 am ribbon cutting of the first store. The piece also notes that the chain’s strict non-smoking policy was instantly successful with women looking for a literal breath of fresh air from Japan’s dingy, tobacco-hazed kissaten shops.

However, those “dated, smoky cafés” are “unfazed” by the America coffee juggernaut’s success, at least according to an AFP headline. The article, published last fall, quotes Ichiro Sekiguchi, the 100-year-old proprietor of longtime Tokyo bistro Cafe de L’Ambre, where he sells 700 yen cups of a straight-up strong brew that he deems to be far more authentic than Starbucks’ blend. As he puts it, “The way they make (coffee) is totally wrong, it’s not tasty.”

Nearby Cafe Paulista has a similarly minimalist ethos, and the celebrity endorsements of both bistros—wrestler-cum-politician Antonio Inoki at the former, John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the latter—certainly add to both locales’ esteem. Yet the article also notes that Starbucks has grown successful enough to foot the $900 million bill to buy out its Japanese partner.

According to the AFP article, Japan is the world’s fourth biggest coffee consumer (trailing only America, Brazil and Germany), where 446,392 tonnes of beans have been brewed and gulped down here in 2013 alone. Hopefully that means there’s more than enough clients to sustain smooth American chains, gritty traditionalists and all blends in between.

—Kyle Mullin

Image: “Harajuku Starbucks” by Flickr user Héctor García under CC

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