Tuesday, September 22, 2009

IKEA in Japan

I went to Ikea for the first time last week. I didn't even know there was an Ikea in Japan. I'm not even sure how I found out there was an Ikea in Japan. Maybe I read about it online or maybe someone mentioned it in passing. Either way, I went to Ikea for the first time last week.

Ikea in Japan is exactly like Ikea anywhere else. This was somewhat disappointing because I was expecting it to be less Swedish and more Japanese. I thought it would follow the McDonald's model, which is to say import the original but add a few items on the menu that can only be found in Japan (like the shrimp burger and the egg burger, for example).

So I was expecting Ikea to be Ikea but with a Japanese twist. Futons instead of beds. Chopsticks instead of forks. Sushi instead of meatballs. But no. The Japanese Ikea did not deviate in any way from the Swedish original. Well, except for the smoking area. I don't remember seeing a smoking area next to the entrance of a Canadian Ikea.

Despite being located in an industrial area in the middle of nowhere (just like in Canada!), the store is extremely easy to get to (not like in Canada!). Ikea offers a free shuttle bus from one of the busiest train stations in downtown Osaka.

The bus was one big moving advertisement for Ikea. Inside the bus, there was an instructional video on how to shop at the store. I think the fact that there's a right way to shop at the store (following the arrows with your little pencil and piece of paper) partly explains its success in Japan. Ikea is already very Japanese. There is a correct way of doing things, there are lots of instructions and explanations, everything is very orderly and clean, there is a proper route that you have to follow. The store is practically a microcosm of Japan.

The bus also contained several ads featuring the Ikea cafe, which were meant to stimulate your appetite during the 25-minute ride so that by the time you finally arrive at the store the first thing you want to do is order up a plate of meatballs with lingonberry sauce. (Which is exactly what we did.)

The menu contained standard Ikea fare, except for the green tea lattes and Japanese curry. The rest of the Japanese Ikea experience was exactly the same as the Canadian Ikea experience. There were the same showrooms containing the same furniture. The same marathon floorplan winding its way through model living rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms. The same massive marketplace. The same airplane-hangar-sized warehouse. And, finally, the same long line ups at the checkout counters.

I picked up a few items for my new apartment (I'm moving on Thursday. But that's a whole other story). Of course, furnishing my apartment was just part of the reason I went to Ikea. I really just wanted to see if it was any different in Japan. And even though it wasn't any different from any other Ikea anywhere else, it was still very Japanese.

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