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Bars and Restaurants Offer Personalized Services (March 22, 2005)

Customer's nukazuke jars (Takewaka)
Regular customers at bars in Japan often drink from "keep" bottles. These are bottles of whisky or other liquor bought by the customer from the bar and kept there for his or her exclusive use. Customers like this system for its convenience and economy, and the bars are happy too, because it is a way to ensure that regular customers keep on coming back. It is no surprise, therefore, that the "keep" concept has been carried over to other products besides liquor. Pickles, chopsticks, and coffee cups are just some of the products now offered on a "keep" basis.

Exclusive Pickles
One of the aims of this new wave of "keep" products is to give the customer a warm sense of familiarity. Take chopsticks, for example. Laying a favorite pair of chopsticks in front of a customer is certain to make that person feel at home. Another aim is to provide a sense of exclusivity, as in the case of cafes where coffee is served to customers in Wedgwood china cups that they have picked out themselves.

The "keep" system is a growing trend, particularly in well-heeled districts of Tokyo, such as Aoyama, where more and more establishments are introducing their own versions of the system. The practice makes good business sense, and many bars and restaurants see it as a way to stay one step ahead of the competition.

One "keep" item that has proved particularly popular is nukazuke (vegetables pickled in rice bran), a traditional Japanese delicacy. One restaurant offers a service that provides customers with their own nukadoko (a pickling bed in which vegetables are pickled with rice bran, salt, water, and other ingredients). For many customers, the appeal of this service lies in nostalgia. In days gone by, nukadoko were a standard feature of Japanese homes. Many middle-aged Japanese remember how their mothers would pluck out a selection of pickled vegetables from the nukadoko and place them on the table at dinnertime. Nukadoko have largely disappeared in recent years, however, due to changes in eating habits and to the wide availability of pre-packaged pickles in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Inside the establishment are about 150 ceramic jars, each with a capacity of about three liters and with a tag bearing the names of the customers. Customers planning on visiting the restaurant to consume some specially prepared pickles call well in advance to request the kinds of vegetables they want - usually such popular items as eggplant, daikon radish, and turnip, along with a few seasonal specialties. The restaurant staff put the customers' selections in the jars for pickling, and the cost of preservation is ¥1,000 ($9.52 at ¥105 to the dollar) for six months.

On the big day, the customer's personal jar is placed on the table and the waiter pulls out the pickles from the rice bran mixture. The pickles are usually complemented by steaming hot rice. For many customers, this is a flavor that is hard to find these days. Many invite their friends to join them and share their personally selected pickles.

My Chocolate, My Tea
A department store in the district of Nihonbashi in downtown Tokyo has started to provide a similar service involving chocolate. Customers' personalized chocolate is kept in storage boxes in a corner of a chocolate shop on the store's second basement floor. The temperature and humidity inside the boxes are strictly controlled to ensure that the chocolate remains fresh. The chocolate - known as "My Chocolate" - is specially made for each customer and is served at an adjacent cafe. The chocolate is stored for free for up to two months. For the department store, it is a strategy to attract shoppers. Indeed, the service is particularly popular among housewives, who often request order-made chocolates before returning home from shopping.

Chinese tea is the enticement at a shop in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district. The "keep" tea is stored in cans that are rented to regular customers. The cost of this service ranges from ¥3,000 to ¥8,500 ($29 to $81), depending on the value of the tea inside. When customers arrive, they can pay an additional fee of ¥300 ($2.86) for an unlimited supply of hot water, in which their selected tea is brewed. Many customers choose to have dim sum or Chinese-style cakes served along with their favorite tea. This and other "keep" services are hedonistic pleasures for which customers with discerning palates are willing to pay.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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