Why this bento box shop in Ginza Six mall is drawing long queues

Why this bento box shop in Ginza Six mall is drawing long queues
A noriben boxed meal from Hakejoyu Noriben Yamanobori
PHOTO: Smiles Co.

Three months have passed since the April 20 opening of the Ginza Six shopping complex, touted as Tokyo's first "luxury mall" with outlets for high-end fashion houses.

While the initial bustle appears to have settled down, there are still long lines in front of one shop on the second basement floor: a bento box shop called Hakejoyu Noriben Yamanobori.

Every day it sells about 300 boxes of noriben, bento with dried nori seaweed laid over cooked rice along with other items.

Most of the three types of noriben are prepared in the 23-square-meter shop, using the finest ingredients such as top-quality nori from Ariake Bay in Kyushu.

The shop generously brushes its own soy sauce-based mixture onto the nori, thus making it very easy for the seaweed on the rice to be torn apart - the products' biggest selling point.

Considering this, the ¥1,080 (S$13) price tag doesn't seem too expensive, even though noriben, considered a basic type of bento, is usually sold at half the price in convenience stores and other bento shops.

A scooter hung above the table at the Pavilion in Nakameguro, Tokyo, is an installation by Tatzu Nishino.Photo: Smiles Co.

Japanese people love noriben, but the "genuine" kind never seems to be available anywhere - something that the shop noticed.

It's interesting to note that the shop was launched by Smiles Co.

You may have heard of Soup Stock Tokyo, a restaurant chain run by this company that has now developed into a familiar sight in the nation's capital.

Since the chain's first outlet opened in 1999, Smiles has constantly ventured into interesting enterprises.

Soup Stock Tokyo is a mini diner aimed at women wanting a light meal.

As there are many standing soba bars frequented by men feeling peckish, there should also be room for trendy eateries with soup as their main offering - I believe this was the concept behind the chain.

This smash hit project has made Smiles into what it is today.

Smiles is also thriving in the fashion industry. The company's Pass The Baton chain opened its first outlet in Marunouchi, Tokyo, in 2009.

This is a new type of recycle shop where many of the items on sale are displayed alongside photos of their former owners and letters they wrote to the new owners to tell the stories behind the products.

Smiles also runs a tie shop chain called Giraffe to counter the trend of ties being worn less and less in modern society.

The stores offer a wide range of inventive products, such as reversible ties and a lineup of recommendations depending on your "emotional temperature" that day.

Pursuing warmth, challenging accepted ideas and digging up potential needs seem to be the basic principles of Smiles' business development.

There is yet another aspect of the company's strategy: the artistic sense.

This is probably because its president, Masamichi Toyama, who used to work at a trading company, is an artist himself who has held his own exhibitions.

Among the artistic projects undertaken by Smiles is Lemon Hotel on Teshima island in the Seto Inland Sea, a facility meant to be a work of art themed on lemons, a local specialty.

In November last year, the company opened cafe restaurant Pavilion under the raised railway tracks in Nakameguro, Tokyo.

The premises are adorned with works by contemporary artists using the concepts of "love" and "art."

It's worth noting that Smiles has also launched "Work without Work," a dispatch service publicized under the banner "Time even for the president to have a side job."

The list of services available includes engaging Toyama himself to work for a client - for example, to provide advice at a tea party, coordinate clothes for a day, and even work as an ordinary employee.

I'm sure quite a few people and companies would find it tempting to turn to such an ideas man.

Other people dispatched under the service include Yuko Nagayama, an architect, and Yoshiyuki Morioka, the owner of ingenious bookstore Morioka Shoten.

Beginning with a fashionable soup shop targeting working women, the company now sells noriben in the middle of an upscale Tokyo district and dispatches the president and other people of wisdom to clients.

This is an interesting company indeed.

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