The Secret to the 33,000 Centuries-Old Stores in Japan

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, a hot spring hotel in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Founded in A.D. 705, it is the oldest hotel in the world. (Image:   via  wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)
Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, a hot spring hotel in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Founded in A.D. 705, it is the oldest hotel in the world. (Image: via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

There are more than 33,000 stores in Japan that have endured for centuries. Japan is the country with the most time-honored brands in the world, including the world’s oldest hotel, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan in Yamanashi, which was founded in A.D. 705.

There is also the Candy dessert shop Ichimonjiya Wasuke, a company based in Kyoto, dating from A.D. 1000. These long-established Japanese stores are called “shinise,” or “old shops.” What makes Japanese companies last so long?

The answer is very simple: respect traditional elements and pass on the business from generation to generation; maintain core competitiveness and do not rush to “innovate.”

Tsuen Tea was founded in 1672 on an ordinary street corner in Kyoto. The current owner is a 38-year-old Japanese man named Yusuke Tsuen. He sat cross-legged on the floor and told the BBC reporter: “We only focus on tea-based products, and our business scope has not been expanded. This is why we can survive.”

Tsuen Tea in Uji, Kyoto, was built in 1672. (Image: Miya.m via wikimedia > CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tsuen Tea in Kyoto was built in 1672. (Image: Miya.m via wikimedia > CC BY-SA 4.0)

Respect for traditional spirit and culture from generation to generation

Yusuke Tsuen said that many of his peers in his neighborhood had similar family backgrounds as the youngest generations in the family business. For Yusuke Tsuen, choosing to run the family business was never in doubt.

He said: “This is not a business I started. I am running a business left behind by my ancestors. If I don’t inherit it, this legacy will disappear. Since kindergarten and elementary school, whenever I was asked what my dream was for the future, I would naturally think of continuing to run the family store. ”

Maintaining distinctive operations and focusing on customer service

The key is to pay attention to and maintain the characteristic operations and products of their old stores, that is, “core competitiveness.” Traditional products also make Japanese shops long-lasting.

Tsuen Tea, as mentioned above, for hundreds of years has been focusing on operating using only its own tea products. It has not specifically expanded its product range, and also never relaxed its requirements on product quality. Then, customers are always there, including old and new ones.

Traditional products also make Japanese shops long-lasting. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Traditional products also make Japanese shops long-lasting. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Prefer the old-fashioned or traditional to innovation

Innovation and start-ups are popular business models in the West. However, in Japanese culture, people’s loyalty and recognition of “old shops” are much higher than in innovative companies.

Tsuen Tea shop owner Yusuke Tsuen said: “I was born here. My ancestors started and operated this tea shop, and now I have taken over. My goal is not to expand operations or make it an international company. The most important thing is to continue the traditional family approaches to run our ancestral business.”

Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Helen

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