Drive-Through Fish Shop Opens in Tokyo’s KachidokiSociety Food and Drink Lifestyle Culture Economy
Direct Selling on the Wharf
Avoiding the “three Cs”—closed spaces, crowding, and close-contact settings—is being strongly promoted in Japan as a way to keep the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading in the country. Businesses are striving to find ways to continue to thrive in this new era, and seafood retailers are no exception. In one innovative approach on the Tokyo waterfront, a seafood distributor has launched a drive-through shop to put its product in the hands of consumers with a minimum of personal contact.
The shop is located roughly 600 meters from Kachidoki Station on the Toei Ōedo Line, down Kiyosumi Avenue toward Tsukishima. Just past the Tsukishima Police Station, at an intersection flanked on both sides by high-rise condos, I see a fluttering banner with the characters Toyosu chokusō (Direct from Toyosu). A guide gestures for me to turn right down the Toyomi Wharf to a large refrigerated warehouse.
I stop the car in front of the warehouse. A salesperson wearing a face shield and mask approaches the car window to take my order and accept payment; almost immediately, another staff member loads a Styrofoam box containing my order into the car trunk. The whole process takes about 40 seconds. Car after car roll in as a team of 12 work with synchronized efficiency, taking care of three cars at a time. The scene reminds me of the busy but efficient pit stops on an auto race circuit. The swift response is intended to keep the “three Cs” at bay.
Some people arrive on foot or by bicycle. “We live nearby. Saw the banner as we were driving by and decided to take a look. We want to feast on some tuna to get rid of the self-quarantine blues,” says a housewife in her thirties. A couple in their fifties explain, “We saw the news on the Internet yesterday and reserved a box. Delighted with the canned mackerel gift.” The customers are all smiles.
“The supermarkets are crowded and ordering online can get expensive,” says Miyazaki Narito, president of Kaisei Bussan and originator of the drive-through fish shop idea. “This operation solves those problems. We sell top-quality dried tuna and other fish from ports throughout Japan, shipped here and quick-frozen to preserve flavor. You can’t beat the price of our seafood boxes.”
A Third of the Toyosu Price
Kaisei Bussan is a wholesaler specializing in fresh fish for the restaurant industry. Established in 1998, the company counts around 3,000 restaurants among its clientele. Restaurants have been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, however, with many closing completely and others open for only a few hours each day.
“Our sales have dropped 90 percent, several times more than what we experienced after the Great East Japan Earthquake. And it isn’t just us wholesalers. Our suppliers, the fisherfolk, have also been driven into the red, and many have been forced to stop fishing. Still, we can’t afford to sit on our hands. I started the drive-through shop to reduce food waste and provide some encouragement to the fishers who are our suppliers,” says Miyazaki.
A varied selection of seafood boxes are available for drive-thru purchase. For ¥5,000 (all prices include tax) you can get the dried-fish box, full of top-quality dried fish for grilling, including large fillets of Atka mackerel, Bansuke red saltwater fish, lightly salted top-quality salmon, whole dried sandfish, cellophane-wrapped and dried bunkaboshi mackerel, and filleted and dried aji jack mackerel. The tuna box, going for the same price, offers a mouth-watering selection of raw, quick-frozen bluefin, southern bluefin, and bigeye tuna chūtoro (the fatty underbelly meat, considered a special delicacy), lean bigeye tuna red meat, and negitoro, a paste of raw tuna and chopped spring onion. (Box contents are subject to change depending on the shipments of the day.)
Other offerings include a ¥5,000 fish roe box of mentaiko salted and tarako unsalted pollack roe, and a ¥3,000 small box of selected dried fish. Payments must be in cash only. Ahead of its opening on May 9, the drive-through fish shop received email orders for a total of 400 boxes. Another 100 boxes were prepared for on-site sale as well.
Because Kaisei Bussan procures its fish directly, not only from the Toyosu wholesale market but also from processing plants in Miyagi and Shizuoka Prefectures, it can sell at up to 30% less than supermarket prices. Preparing prepackaged boxes makes for speedy sales with minimal contact, which is especially reassuring for COVID-19-wary customers.
Expanding to Nagoya, Osaka, Chiba, and Toyama
So far the shop has operated on a select number of dates in May, selling from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Most customers pre-order their boxes, although some simply show up to do their shopping. Future market dates have not yet been decided, but customers are welcome to place their orders by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (03-3533-6121 in Japan).
“We already had orders for hundreds of boxes before we had done much to get the word out,” says Miyazaki. “The number may go up to a thousand soon. Residents of a nearby high-rise condo said they came because they saw our banner from their balcony. There are a lot of condos around here. It’ll be great if we can get more customers just through word of mouth. We plan to take it slow even after the stay-home injunctions are lifted and will probably open the drive-through shop just one day a week for a while.”
Miyazaki has sought advice from Food Supply, a Tokyo-based wholesale greengrocer selling primarily to restaurants and eateries. Food Supply launched its own makeshift drive-through store back in April and has been expanding the service nationwide.
“We’re selling different products, but our approach is the same,” says Takekawa Atsushi, president of Food Supply. “I advised Miyazaki to have customers reserve their pick-up times in one-hour blocks to avoid unnecessary congestion. There’s a lot of trial-and-error, but we’ve got to diversify our sales channels. Our past customers are not going to return right away after this coronavirus crisis is defused.”
Miyazaki has negotiated with other wholesalers to open more drive-through fish shops, launching in Nagoya, Aichi, and Kashiwa, Chiba on May 16, and Ibaraki, Osaka, and Tonami, Toyama on May 19. Soon he will have a nationwide network similar to Food Supply.
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Loading purchases at the drive-thru fish shop. All photos by author except where otherwise noted.)