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TokyoNow: Department stores dropping rooftop amusement parks.

TOKYO, July 29, Kyodo

At one time, nearly every department store in Japan had an amusement park for children on the rooftop and a special children's lunch on the menu of the store's restaurants.

Nowadays, however more and more department stores are abolishing or scaling down their rooftop amusement parks, whereas suburban supermarkets and malls have indoor amusement facilities for children.

Industry watchers say this reflects the change in marketing strategy of department stores and supermarkets, with the former increasingly specializing in luxury brand products and the latter focusing on attracting families.

The main attraction on the rooftop of Mitsukoshi Department Store's flagship shop in Nihombashi, Tokyo is a gardening corner. It is thronged with shoppers every day. The rooftop used to be an amusement park for children.

According to a Mitsukoshi Department Store history booklet, in the 1950s and 1960s the rooftop was bustling with children enjoying riding on an electric train ''driven'' by a monkey or on a miniature ropeway.

The amusement park was dismantled in the mid-1970s.

Though some of its subsidiaries, including Nagoya Mitsukoshi, still have rooftop amusement areas, none of the company's 12 directly run stores across the country has an amusement park any more, a Mitsukoshi official said.

''A visit to a department store by the whole family is no longer a major event for a family,'' said Takahiro Imazato, Mitsukoshi's public relations chief. ''More and more department stores are specializing by focusing on women's clothing and food floors,'' he said.

Perhaps, Osaka, western Japan, is the only exception.

At the Osaka store of Takashimaya Co., a rooftop amusement park equipped with a Ferris wheel still draws customers. Another Osaka department store has recently installed a Ferris wheel on its rooftop.

There may be play areas on the rooftops of department stores in other regions, but none of them has an amusement park any more, a Takashimaya official said.

''Though exact figures are not available, the number of rooftop amusement parks appears to have hit a peak in the mid-1960s,'' said Shigeyoshi Imai, director of the Japan Department Stores Association.

Department store rooftops are now ''a haven of rest'' for adults to each lunch they purchased on the food floor on the basement, Imai said.

Meanwhile, more and more supermarket and mall operators are opening indoor amusement parks.

Aeon Fantasy Co. installs and runs indoor amusement facilities at malls and shopping centers and is a subsidiary of Aeon Co., the operator of the Jusco supermarket chain.

The company plans to increase the number of indoor amusement facilities it operates by 30 during its current business year to the end of February 2004, making 200 in all, including those operated under franchise agreements, it said.

To this end, Aeon Fantasy is expanding its operations to retailers other than Aeon group companies, such as Tokyu Store Chain Co. It also plans to establish large amusement parks equipped with merry-go-rounds and other attractions, in a tie-up with a fast-food chain operator, it said.

''Our experience shows that having an indoor amusement park increases the number of customers by nearly 50%,'' said Hiroyuki Sugawara, planning manager at Aeon Fantasy. ''For a supermarket, it is an effective way to draw family shoppers.''

Ito-Yokado Co., Japan's largest supermarket chain, set up indoor amusement parks at seven of its outlets last year.

''Rooftop amusement parks have come to mean nothing to urban department stores, as their targeted customers are working women in their 20s and 30s and people in their 50s and 60s,'' says Kazunori Tsuda, an analyst at Daiwa Institute of Research.

On the other hand, since supermarkets target family customers and their marketing area is wider, they tend to focus on establishing facilities that draw more customers and encourage them to stay longer, he said.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Aug 4, 2003
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