Back and Forward

Back and Forward is a regular column that takes a slightly irreverent look at some of Japan’s biggest business stories.

LocomotiveFukutoshin line opens up ...
On June 14, Tokyo’s newest subway, the Fukutoshin line, opened for business. The Fukutoshin line will provide travelers from Saitama the convenience of commuting directly to the shopping districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya without having to change to the Yamanote line at Ikebukuro. As Shibuya braces itself for a fresh influx of teenagers to arrive from Saitama and sit idly on its streets, it remains to be seen whether the Fukutoshin line will help boost the nation’s birth rate by offering more young folks a place to meet. Construction is reportedly underway on a second statue of Hachiko.

Bag... and department stores are ready ...
Despite 15 consecutive years of falling sales nationwide, department stores in Shinjuku have expected the Fukutoshin line to provide them with a rash of new customers. Isetan in Shinjuku spent about 10 billion to renovate its prepared foods section, Takashimaya spent over 10 billion in an attempt to draw in more older customers, and Odakyu plans to spend up to 8.5 billion to upgrade its women’s clothing sections.

Cash Register... Sales boosted in the opening weekend ...
So, have department stores seen a real change in consumer behavior? On the weekend that the Fukutoshin opened, Takashimaya reported a 30% boost in sales over the previous year and Isetan saw a 10% rise. Over in Ikebukuro, Seiyu reported a 5% rise in sales while Tobu’s sales remained unchanged. Shibuya’s Tokyu department store, however, may get the last laugh: Tokyu is planning to build a 33 floor mixed-use facility in Shibuya. Could this pull the teenagers from Saitama off the streets of Shibuya and into luxury digs?

Butter... and that’s without the butter!
One thing department stores will be able to put on their shelves this fall is butter. In late June, the ministry of agriculture announced that it would seek to import 5,000 tons of butter as an emergency step to boost flagging supplies. The shipment is expected to be sourced mainly from Europe and to arrive in October, when domestic demand tends to peak. In order to ensure that free market forces will have nothing to do with the process, the ministry of agriculture is using the Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corporation, an entity which it fully controls, to handle the butter import.

Soy SauceA new summer flavor?
Speaking of dairy, are you ready for soy sauce and ice cream together? In April, the Yamato soy sauce and miso company in Ishikawa Prefecture released a soy sauce specially brewed for use as an ice cream topping. If this sounds like an example of an isolated bizarre product, think again: Soy sauce giant Kikkoman has been selling soy sauce-flavored ice cream at its factory in Chiba since last year, while Yugeta Syouyu, a firm based in Saitama, is selling soy sauce-flavored ice cream cups.

TombstoneBetter put off that funeral until oil comes down
Finally, bad news for the wedding and funeral industries. As food and energy costs continue to soar, Japan’s household spending showed repeated decline in the three months running up to May, with that month showing a 3.2% decline in household spending. Hardest hit in May was spending on services, which declined 7.64%. According to data from the Statistics Bureau, Japan’s households are cutting back on “social expenses” such as wedding and funeral costs. Has it even become too expensive to die in Japan?

Ken Worsley runs He can be contacted at