Jun Otaka・Kazuoki Tani
Academic Process Solutions Division, Maruzen Yushodo Co. (Jun Otaka) Metropolitan Center Kable Operations Team Operations Support. (Kazuoki Tani) Head of Kable Operations Team, Metropolitan Center.
●Please tell us how you came to work for Maruzen Yushodo.
（Otaka） I joined Maruzen as a new graduate, traveling all over Japan, working in different stores and locations. I started out in Tokyo and jumped between locations to help set up new stores. To tell the truth, I came back to Maruzen after working for another company briefly. In July 2016, I was approached by a friend of mine who convinced me to take on a store development position at Maruzen Yushodo. At the time, there was no one else with that type of skill set, so I rejoined the company to help them open Book Lounge Kable.
●How did you come to work for Maruzen, Mr. Tani?
（Tani）I haven’t had such a long career Maruzen actually. After I graduated, I worked for a manufacturer for about 10 years, but circumstances required me to return to my parents’ home in Osaka, so I went back. I then worked in the restaurant industry for 13 years, working in restaurants in Osaka and also establishing new restaurants. But as I entered my 40s, I wanted to achieve something definite. I changed jobs to try something else, and that’s where I met Mr. Otaka.
●Where did the two of you meet?
（Otaka）We met a few years ago when I was in charge of a showroom space that was part of Maruzen Yushodo. I needed someone with experience in the restaurant business for another project and, there you were! So I approached him.
（Tani）I wasn’t used to working during the day, so at first I registered as a temp and started in the showroom where I could use my customer service experience. That’s where I met Mr. Otaka. I had a lot of experience managing and setting up new stores, so I think this appealed to him.
●I see that both of you have started your careers by starting up your own restaurants.
（Otaka）Experience is the key to setting up a new restaurant. Even though we have the know-how to open a store, we need to modify the direction of the store little by little through marketing because of the characteristics of the area and the different clientele in each building. We believe that it is important to gradually adapt in such a discerning way, both before opening and after operating the store.
●What kind of personality is suited to start up a restaurant or store? And this may seem off-topic, but perhaps it’s connected: what type of upbringing did you have?
（Otaka） I have never been able to stay in the same place for a long time. I was born in Chiba but moved to Sapporo twice during my elementary and junior high school years. I never thought about how many friends I would make, and no matter what kind of place I went to, I was able to be myself. There were never people that I disliked, I think I was a very adaptable child. Because of my mobile nature, even after I started working for a company, I liked to move around, never working in the same area for more than three years, and moving all the time.
（Tani）Looking back, I also spent my elementary and junior high school years in Osaka, but the university I attended was very far from my home. So I moved from one place to another without returning to my parents’ house. Even after I started working, I changed where I lived every three years. When I stay in the same environment for too long, it makes me want to change my surroundings.
（Otaka）Changing your environment is stimulating.
（Tani）When I was in the restaurant business, I changed where I lived a lot. I started in Osaka, lived in Nagoya, Chiba, and Okinawa for a year, and then Tokyo. I moved to Tokyo after I was approached by customers and acquaintances who told me about jobs and projects they were connected to. All of my work has come about through personal connections.
●How did you feel about each other when you started working together?
（Otaka）He never asks the same question twice and can see, perceive and move. We function more like a team than a hierarchical sort of relationship. The year before last, when I heard that Maruzen Yushodo was going to create its first directly operated restaurant in Haneda, I found his experience fascinating and asked him to join me.
（Tani） I have been following his back all along, thinking that I can count on him. When I was offered the job, I thought it would be interesting. I was happy that I could make use of my past experience and that the right person in the right position was able to pull me in.
●What kind of restaurant did you set up in Haneda?
（Otaka）The year before last, a facility called Haneda Innovation City was built at Tenkubashi Station, which is next to Haneda Airport. The restaurant we opened was called’ Creadisce’ and is set up like a complex community lounge that combines a bookstore, dining room, and lounge in one space.
（Tani）It is directly connected to the station, but other than that facility, there is nothing else. There are only 10 restaurants or so in the area.
（Otaka）If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the Olympics would have been held there and we expected lots of overseas visitors to visit, which would have been an exciting prospect. But in the end, the number of new shops opening up has decreased…
（Tani）Some stores didn’t even open, even though their interiors were finished!
（Otaka）The basic idea of Maruzen Yushodo is centered around “knowledge and learning”. We wanted to create a place that could provide learning for those planning to go abroad as well as those coming into the country. It could be used as a training center for elementary school students or for the staff of the institute, as well as aviation-related companies. We were thinking of making it a place where we could hold various events in cooperation with the city of Ota.
●I guess opening a store during the pandemic was a challenge in many ways?
（Otaka）Yes, that’s right. Since this was the first directly managed store for the company, I knew I had to keep going. It was during that phase of the pandemic when people were working from home and meetings went online that we began to work with the city of Ota to develop an image of the space and the type of things we wanted to achieve together. But our online meetings and remote working was not going very smoothly, so for the first six months, things weren’t really progressing. Even with the help of other companies, we had to take the initiative. Maruzen Yushodo had no experience with directly operated restaurants, so Mr. Tani’s experience in the restaurant business became invaluable.
（Tani）We had another company handle the actual food and beverage operations, but they don’t have their antennae up when it came to marketing. We had to make suggestions on how we promote the business, and so it became my job.
（Otaka） The restaurant is located next to a hotel and we serve the guests staying there breakfast. It’s open from 5:00 a.m. all year round. We were anticipating a diverse clientele from overseas, so we expected that if we served a buffet all morning, they would be hooked on one of the many types of cuisine on offer. We started to produce and develop this buffet concept but had to abandon it once the pandemic started.
（Tani）We are now serving Japanese food as well as Western food, rather than a buffet. We also serve hashed rice on a hot iron plate, a traditional Maruzen dish.
●And then you started Book Lounge Kable in Kabutocho.
（Otaka）Yes. The project itself was first conceived around two years ago, but we only started properly working on it around July of last year.
（Tani） And I started around the end of August.
（Otaka）That’s also when we started preparing onsite as an operating unit.
●You only had two months to start up and deliver the project?
（Tani）Generally, starting up a restaurant has that kind of schedule.
（Otaka）It’s a physically demanding challenge. At first, there were many things that couldn’t be decided, and the pace was slow, but once the fixtures and interior decorations start going in place, your spirits rise. And once the bookshelves were in place, I got busy working on the book display and filling the shelves.
●What was your impression when you first came here?
（Tani） I like spaces with a lot of greenery. Oh good! I thought. There are a lot of windows and glass, so there is plenty of daylight and brightness. It’s a big place, so I felt pressure to have a lot of customers come in or it would get lonely.
（Otaka）When I first walked in, there were no chairs yet, but I thought the circular design on the floor and ceiling had a nice impact. Even though it’s located in a very urban area, the fresh trees decorating the space make it feel natural and relaxing. I heard that Heiwa Real Estate designed KABUTO ONE with an emphasis on nature, and I thought, “this is what they mean by a place that gives you a relaxed feeling”.
●Do you have any memorable stories from the launch of the shop?
（Tani）Since Kable only accepts cashless payments, I was concerned that we would not be able to do the accounting if there was a system failure, and I was also worried about whether we would be able to operate without any cash at all. It’s a concern that goes against the times, isn’t it?
（Otaka）Our job is to set up the infrastructure of the store. It sounds cool to talk about solutions, but we really are a problem-solving unit!
●How did you go about getting things off the ground after the opening?
（Otaka）We have a pay-by-the-hour system here. Even though we are located in the middle of a business district, the number of office workers coming to work was lower than we had expected, and so we had very few customers when we first opened. Also, due to the pandemic, we had to be a bit conservative with our advertising and such.
（Tani）If you order food at lunchtime, admission is free, so we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people visiting the shop around lunchtime. Even though we’ve set it up as a book lounge, you can still enjoy authentic tasting food with a menu mainly based on Western cuisine. Lots of people are busy during lunchtime, but even so, nearly half of the customers pick up a book after their meal.
●There seem to be a lot of Kabutocho-related economic and finance books, but what books have been the most popular?
（Tani）Economic and finance books make up almost half of the store. However, the books that people actually pick up or buy are those related to daily life. We have a section called “Wisdom and Words,” related to books with quotes from famous people or books that help people learn and better themselves, and these have also become quite popular. I think there is a tendency for people to pick up more practical books.
●Why are lifestyle books preferred?
（Otaka）Kabutocho is a financial district, so, naturally we thought that books about economics and finance would be popular. This was our original concept. However, we were surprised to find out that the more abstract books, such as books about daily life and language, were more popular. Does this mean that people come here to heal themselves in a way? My theory is that people usually read business books, so I think this is a place where they can encounter books that they wouldn’t normally pick up, thinking, “Oh, these are books that I’ve never seen before!”. We’re able to provide the opportunity for people to encounter books that can broaden their horizons, which is in fact the role of a bookstore. In the future, I would also like to add business-related comics and other books as well. But even if you pick up a book about something completely different, I still think that books about economics and finance are essential here. I feel that it is very difficult to find the right balance between the concept of the store and our customer’s preferences.
（Tani）It’s a daily struggle. I take in lots of information, let it digest in my mind, and then tell people what I think based on my experiences. But I am always searching and questioning. I check what type of books customers pick up, and try to learn about the trends and preferences of our customers.
（Otaka）We currently have about 2,500 books, but we would like to nearly double that. We can’t compete with other bookstores on the number of books, so we would like to make more realistic proposals by looking at customer trends and then determining what they really want.
●Do you have any special techniques to understand your customers’ tastes?
（Otaka）One thing we do is: when a customer picks up a book, we ask them to not put it back on the shelf, but rather to place them on the returns trolley. It’s a system similar to a library. We originally began using this system because we thought it would be better for the staff to collect and sanitize the books before putting them back, but it has also helped us to understand what type of books our customers find interesting.
●Did you find it challenging to start up the business?
（Otaka）When we first launched the business there wasn’t really any sense of satisfaction. After the opening, we found issues and addressed them one by one, and we would constantly think about what we should change or what we could do better. To me, this is what makes it worthwhile.
（Tani） I am never satisfied with a restaurant once it is established. It’s more important to get it off the ground than to start it up. I feel like I can settle down only after I get it on track.
●Both of you told me that you entered your current positions whilst taking into consideration your physical strength, but I feel that this is a job that requires a lot of stamina!
（Otaka）That’s true! I leave at 8:00 in the morning and return home at 10:00 at night, which is a common pattern for office workers. But when we are open, we are on our feet the whole time and don’t have time to even type a single email!
（Tani） I’m working on something all the time. Maybe it’s the adrenaline!
（Otaka） I can’t take a month off. But I want to succeed, and I don’t want to talk about failure. That is how I work. I am happy when customers say thank you, and I want to make them happy by creating a place with a good atmosphere.
（Tani）It’s great when you change the store little by little. Especially when customers can notice even the smallest change you’ve made to the shop.
●What kind of place do you want the store to become?
（Otaka）We must be aware of Kabutocho, but on the other hand, I don’t think we should be too conscious of it either. It’s not so much that people like to come out of their way to Kabutocho, but rather it’s about people who happen to work here or people who live in the neighborhood stopping by the store to enjoy a break. I would like to get to know the people of this town rather than just this place. A finance guy might pick up a book about daily life during his break, or a couple who came to visit on their day off might pick up a business book just because they are in Kabutocho. The keyword “Kabutocho” will never go away, but it would be nice if we could create encounters beyond it as well.
●Is there anything you wish Kabutocho had more of?
（Otaka） I tend to seek out nature. Here we have a lot of greenery, and you can hear the sound of water. But what I think would be interesting is to have some kind of oxygen therapy booth. You know, people in Kabutocho are always working so hard and sleeping very little. So providing a space where people can take a break, read a book and breathe a little oxygen might be nice!
（Tani）We could definitely put an oxygen therapy booth here! It could become a kind of healing spot of Kabutocho!
（Otaka）What we are actually thinking about right now, is live music. It would be nice to have a live piano performance here on certain days of the week. It would be nice to return to work not only with a good cup of coffee but also with the memory of a live performance.
（Tani）I think the people of Kabutocho have many different interests. So unconventional things like oxygen therapy or in-store piano performances will appeal to our customers’ sense of curiosity.
Born in 1966 in Chiba Prefecture. As a child, he was immersed in the world of skiing. After graduating, he joined Maruzen and gained experience in how to open and manage stores. From July 2021, he became a crucial member of the opening of Book Lounge Kable and is in charge of operational support.
Born in 1972 in Osaka, he spent his school years doing club activities and traveling. After working for a manufacturer for 10 years, he returned to Osaka, where his parents reside, and gained experience in how to set up a restaurant. After that, he joined Maruzen and also became a key member in the opening of Book Lounge Kable in July 2021 His role is to oversee the overall operation of the business.
Text : Momoko Suzuki
Photo : Tomohiro Mazawa
Interview : Momoko Suzuki
Interesting people in Kabutocho
（Tani） I am interested in Mr. Oyama of ease. I think it’s incredible that he’s able to attract so many customers and he’s done it all off his own steam.
（Otaka） I am interested in Mr. Mizuta of Heiwa Real Estate. He comes to the store twice a day or so, and he really cares about us. Around the 1950s, he would wear a Burberry coat and read Western books at Maruzen in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, and it’s fun to talk to him about such specific cultural references.